The race to represent El Paso County Commissioner Precinct 2 has incumbent David Stout and opponent Judy Gutierrez not mincing words over key issues such as law enforcement and pay raises.
Stout, who has represented Precinct 2 since 2015, will face Gutierrez, a former city employee, and business owner Carlos Soto in the March 1 Democratic primary. Soto has stayed out of the fray so far and could not be reached for comment for this story.
There are no Republican candidates in this race.
Commissioner Precinct 2 covers most of Central El Paso and Downtown, as well as portions of the West Side and East Side it gained during the redistricting process. The precinct lost portions of Northeast El Paso including Fort Bliss after redistricting was completed.
Stout, 41, and Gutierrez, 57, have been at odds over her claims that he has stated he wants to defund law enforcement — claims Stout says are false, calling them a “scare tactic.”
“(Stout) can say whatever he wants about ‘defund or realign,’ or whatever it is,” Gutierrez said. “He said it, he’s done it. I’m going to hold to that. The voters understand that.”
Gutierrez’s campaign website states that Stout “is working hard to ‘defund the police,’” and notes her opposition to “any policy that would remove or reallocate funds from our Sheriff’s Department budget.”
In an interview, Gutierrez highlighted a September 2020 post Stout made on his official Facebook page about his participation in a march against police brutality. It read: “Today we braved the concrete jungle … to protest police brutality, remember the 33 lives that have been lost at the hands of law enforcement over the last number of years in El Paso and to demand accountability. (El Paso Police) Chief Allen must go and the way our streets are policed must change.”
Stout maintains he never said he wanted to defund police. He pointed to his voting record on commissioners court as evidence of his support for the sheriff’s department.
In 2020, he voted to allocate $340,000 in county funds to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department crisis intervention team, which launched in April 2021. Crisis intervention teams are designed to improve officers’ ability to safely intervene during a mental health emergency and to link individuals to mental health services and divert them from the criminal justice system when appropriate. In late 2021, Stout voted to give the team additional funding from a variety of sources, including federal dollars, so it could expand to 24-hour service.
Stout also said he voted in favor of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement between the county and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Officers Association.
“That means I voted to allow increases of upwards of $2 million a year for their salaries and their benefits. How is that defunding the police?,” Stout said. “She is misinforming the public, she is using Republican-style scare tactics to try and con people into voting for her and I just think that’s unconscionable.”
Gutierrez said she stands by her assertion that Stout aims to defund police.
Gutierrez has received at least $17,000 in donations from local law enforcement unions. She said both retired and active duty law enforcement officers have helped her campaign by volunteering for block walking events.
Stout and Gutierrez also have differing views on pay raises for the county judge and county commissioners.
El Paso County commissioners are tasked with adopting the county’s annual budget and tax rate, approving budgeted purchases for the county, filling vacancies in elective and appointive county offices, and setting salaries and benefits for county employees.
Gutierrez has taken aim at pay increases Stout voted on for county commissioners and the county judge.
“I will never vote for a tax increase, or to increase our own salaries,” her campaign website states.
In 2016, the El Paso County Commissioners Court adopted a policy to increase the pay for all elected county officials to 70% of the market salary level after a survey showed eight of the 11 county positions studied were below market rates compared to the 10 other large Texas counties.
The first pay increase for the commissioners and county judge that took effect in fiscal year 2017 boosted the county judge’s salary from $87,577 to $102,000 and the commissioners’ salaries from $62,680 to $89,250.
Salaries have continued to climb over the years. The most recent pay raise for the county judge and commissioners was in fiscal year 2019, increasing the judge’s salary to $131,481 and commissioner’s pay to $114,901.
In September 2021, when the commissioners court adopted the 2022 fiscal year budget, the court unanimously voted not to accept a pay increase when they voted to give county employees an 8% raise.
Stout said he is proud that the county has been able to increase wages for employees especially during times when inflation spikes and described himself as “the strongest advocate in the county for paying a living wage.”
“We pay all of our county employees, at least a living wage, and above and beyond that, what the market says that the position that they hold should be,” he said.
The county regularly analyzes salaries for all levels of employees, not just the county judge and commissioners, Stout said.
Gutierrez, however, said the pay that the county judge and commissioners receive is unjustifiable and said she would not vote for future raises when the median household income for El Paso families is so low.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the average median household income in El Paso was $47,568 in 2019.
Early voting for the March 1 primaries runs from Feb. 14 through Feb. 25.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which candidate was supported by public safety unions in the 2020 District 2 City Council race. Unions for El Paso police officers and firefighters contributed to incumbent Alexsandra Annello, who defeated Gutierrez in a runoff; the union representing El Paso sheriff’s deputies did not make contributions in that race.
Cover photo: The El Paso County Courthouse. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)