Who’s running for this seat?
Judy Gutierrez, 58, is a retired city of El Paso employee.
David Stout (incumbent), 42, was a news reporter and staffer for state Sen. José Rodríguez prior to becoming County Commissioner in 2015.
El Paso Matters sent questionnaires to every candidate in a contested primary race to help you decide who you want to represent you. Candidates were asked to limit their responses to 100 words. Responses have been lightly edited for grammar and to fit the word count.
Why are you running for this office and why are you the best candidate?
Judy Gutierrez: Our public safety is non-negotiable. We must support our law enforcement by ensuring the proper funding to give them the required tools to provide for our safety as well as theirs, rather than to be punitive by pledging to defund those that take care of our community. We must invest and expand the I-10 corridor through Downtown as well as the Montana freeway, which in turn keeps commercial opportunities in our city which adds to our job base. Lastly, I will bring fiscal responsibility and a level of integrity to the position, as we migrate through and out of the pandemic by reducing unnecessary costs and burden to the taxpayers, while speaking to the public in an honest and upfront manner.
David Stout: I feel I have been a strong and effective leader and want to continue my work. I led on lowering our tax rate this year, ensured a strong, equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic and helped small businesses weather the pandemic storm. I also brought national recognition to Segundo Barrio, spearheaded investment of millions of dollars for providing access to healthy food, worked to create Crisis Intervention Teams at the police and sheriff’s departments, secured a living wage for county employees, increased access to voting and wrote policy for the County’s redistricting advisory committee. I am the only candidate in this race with this depth of experience in policy-making.
What efficiencies in county government would you support to minimize the need for tax increases?
Judy Gutierrez: I would introduce a 4/10 work week where feasible. I would also recommend a hiring freeze and look at the current work from home process and the impact in productivity in relation to reducing overall department costs, not as a global cut but focused percentage reductions after a labor analysis that ensures we utilize every tax dollar appropriately. I would also recommend an immediate travel ban for all employees, including Commissioners Court, and review the approval process to ensure travel is necessary and of value to the county in cost reduction or increase in service.
David Stout: The majority of the County’s budget is spent on personnel and every year our departments put in requests for more, which is not sustainable. We can reduce the burden on taxpayers by bulking up our grants portfolio, bringing in much more state and federal funding to help pay for needed additions. We need to monitor our debt and look for opportunities to refinance at lower rates. We need to retrofit our buildings to be more energy efficient and invest in renewable energy sources. We need to invest more in programs that keep people out of our jails, drastically lowering costs in that budget.
Much of the county budget goes to the criminal justice system. How would you control costs for that system while ensuring public safety?
Judy Gutierrez: Public safety, in terms of being one of the safest communities in the nation, is used to recruit business and their employees to our community. Bargaining agreements are contractually obligated and negotiated by all parties. The Sheriff and his command staff prepare and present a budget, which starts the dialogue with all participants. If those on commissioners court do not take time to review the operations and expenses prior to negotiations and agreements occurring, then the blame is on their lack of understanding. Going forward, I will stay involved with the operations so that the proper adjustments are made that benefit both those in the department as well as our community.
David Stout: I would invest more in jail diversion. Jailing people is expensive. People who are being held just because they are poor shouldn’t be there. People who are mentally ill shouldn’t be there. People who aren’t violent criminals and can be supervised in the community don’t need to be in jail. When people have access to housing, education, jobs, food on their tables and affordable healthcare, they are less likely to commit crime. We need to invest more in programs that help people attain all of these necessities. We don’t do enough to attack the root causes of crime.
Do you support further increasing County Judge and County Commissioner salaries? Please explain.
Judy Gutierrez: While in office, I will not support an increase in commissioner court salaries. It was unfathomable and derelict to vote themselves a $30,000 pay raise, and not once but twice.
David Stout: I believe in paying every county employee at market rate. Whether you are an attorney or a social worker, a nurse or a clerk, a sheriff’s deputy or an elected official, we should find out what competitive and comparable pay levels for those positions are, and then pay at that level. If an analysis is done that shows that a computer programmer’s salary at the county is less than what the market says it should be, then we should make sure that person’s salary is adjusted. I feel the same about salaries for Commissioners and the County Judge.
What measures would you take as County Commissioner to increase income levels in El Paso County?
Judy Gutierrez: Our wages increase not just by the number of jobs available, but by the market in terms of personnel available to fill positions. The basics of our economy is to cultivate local talent and to work in the recruitment of them when businesses choose to be in our community or expand. That runs up the company ladder and we should incentivize companies to do so, even if creating an intern partnership is the path.
David Stout: We should invest more in local, small businesses that are looking to expand. For too long, we have only looked outward, trying to attract big businesses and selling El Paso as a low wage town. We should incubate recent graduates in engineering, architecture, business, health sciences and more and give them opportunities to become entrepreneurs here in El Paso. And, when we provide tax incentives to companies, we should not give them to companies that pay less than a living wage, which in the end continues to perpetuate the negative low wage identity of El Paso and continues to drive wages in the wrong direction.
What infrastructure projects would you support if elected?
Judy Gutierrez: I support the expansion of I-10 at Downtown, the Deck Park, the expansion of the Montana freeway, as well as pushing to extend the lanes of I-10 on the Northwest and Northeast areas of El Paso. Having spent over 40 hours on ride-alongs with deputies, I have seen firsthand the need for a sheriff patrol station in the Horizon City area. I believe the greatest need for infrastructure projects are in the areas of Canutillo, Clint and Fabens, and would wholeheartedly support the respective commissioners’ infrastructure requests.
David Stout: I largely have supported road construction projects in which the county invests in unincorporated areas and will continue to do so. However, many times I cringe at the unfettered and unregulated growth that provokes the need for their existence. I also support building other types of infrastructure, like for water and wastewater services. We have so many people literally living in third world conditions and unfortunately, there is not much counties can do to stop the sprawl and keep this from happening. It would be difficult for us to justify not providing access to these basic services for so many people.
Read more about this race
Stout, 42, will face off against Judy Gutierrez in the upcoming May 24 Democratic primary runoff election. The retired city of El Paso employee forced Stout into a runoff in the March primary, receiving 39.5% of the vote to his 43% — a difference of 387 votes.