Ask residents of El Paso County’s Precinct 4 to name some of their concerns and they mention flooding, aging or outdated roads and illegal dumping. Some feel neglected by their elected representative.
On Nov. 8, that precinct’s voters will choose a commissioner to be their voice in county government. Republican Blanca Trout and Democrat Sergio Coronado, who both serve on the Canutillo Independent School District Board of Trustees, are vying for that seat.
The winner will replace first-term incumbent Carl Robinson, who lost to Coronado in the May 2022 Democratic runoff.
Coronado, an attorney, and Trout, a presenter for Alzheimer’s disease and mental health groups, say their personal and professional experiences give them the tools to represent the precinct, which includes West and Northeast El Paso, Vinton, Westway, Canutillo and Anthony, Texas.
“I know that I am a person who is ready to do the job with energy, with love, passion and knowledge,” Trout said.
“I care about doing something good for El Paso,” Coronado said. “I love my community.”
Commissioners, who are paid $114,901 annually, have numerous responsibilities as part of the five-person El Paso County Commissioners Court. They set policy, approve the tax rate and budget for the county and its hospital district, and authorize plans to build and maintain roads, bridges and county buildings and facilities. They also endorse efforts to deliver health and welfare services, cultural and recreational activities, and law enforcement and public safety to the county.
The precinct spans more than 163 square miles and is dissected by the Franklin Mountains. According to the 2020 Census, 216,161 people reside in that sector, and the El Paso County Elections Department added that approximately 139,000 of those residents are registered voters.
Trout, 60, has the uphill battle in a blue county. The native of Ciudad Juárez grew up on both sides of the border. She talked about her past and the campaign during an interview outside Tom Mays Park Visitor Center, where she frequently brought her two daughters and members of their Girl Scout troops to enjoy and learn about nature.
She was one of 10 siblings born to hard-working parents who owned a successful car repair shop in Juárez. Trout’s interest in numbers led her to help her parents with budgets and accounting, and fueled her dream to start her own business.
She took general business courses at El Paso Community College, but left to take a job as a flight attendant with Aeroméxico. She quit after a decade to start a travel agency in Juárez, which she operated for 11 years.
In 2003, she married Edward Trout, an Army veteran who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Since then, she has devoted much of her time to volunteering with the El Paso and Canutillo school districts. Her interest in helping students with mental health issues and physical disabilities led her to participate in various certification programs from a number of health-focused organizations.
Voters elected Trout to the Canutillo ISD Board of Trustees in 2016, and re-elected her to another four-year term in 2020.
Trout ran unsuccessfully in the 2020 primary to represent the GOP in Texas’ 16th Congressional District. Regardless of the level of government, she said her mission as a candidate is the same: advocate for the rights of the community.
She said she wants the Precinct 4 job to do more for the community as a county commissioner where her priorities would be to rein in taxes, provide the resources to promote safety and security, and improve infrastructure to include better roads.
Trout said she understood the $346 million request by the El Paso County Hospital District for additional resources, but is against the additional taxation that would result from the enhancements to University Medical Center of El Paso and El Paso Children’s Hospital. She would like the hospital district to provide a stripped-down version to mitigate the financial effect on the taxpayer.
“I don’t think El Paso is ready for more taxes,” she said. “We need to create a balance in our taxes.”
As part of her campaign, Trout’s Facebook page promotes “Strong Support in Education,” despite Commissioners Court having no purview over local schools. She also has described part of her campaign platform as “To Keep Parental Rights,” “Remove Inappropriate Content from School Libraries” and “Keep CRT (critical race theory) Out of School Curriculums” – Republican talking points that have emerged in debates over education at the local, state and national levels. When asked how these issues pertain to the race, Trout pointed to the county’s digital library system, over which the commissioners have authority.
She disputed El Paso’s reputation as a safe community, and said she would work to increase the number of sheriff’s deputies. GoodHire, a background screening company, used FBI crime data to rank El Paso as the second safest large city in the country in 2022. The ratings were based on crimes per 1,000 population that involved people and property as well as crimes against society.
Trout has raised just over $9,000 since her campaign began in December 2021, which includes $1,500 from El Paso philanthropists Woody and Gayle Hunt. She also received a $7,729 in-kind gift of campaign signs from Rachel Gabriel, who also gave $1,100.
Among Trout’s biggest supporters is Sonia Frayre, a homemaker and longtime volunteer in the Canutillo school district. Frayre said Trout has shown the qualities she would like in a county commissioner. She said the candidate embraces Christian values and is a good listener, disciplined, energetic and knows how to take a stand.
“(Trout) has a love for people,” Frayre said. “She’d be perfect on the Commissioner’s Court.”
However, some of Trout’s actions have drawn reprimands in recent years.
In September, the school board censured her for knowingly violating school board policy and Texas election law when she drove her truck with signs similar to her election banners for the Precinct 4 race in Canutillo High School’s homecoming parade. Two years earlier, a Texas Education Agency investigation substantiated a teacher’s claim that Trout had abused her power during a parent-teacher conference. Trout has refuted both allegations.
Coronado, 63, was born in El Paso and raised initially in Juárez. During his childhood, the family moved to Arizona and New Mexico as his father followed construction jobs, before eventually settling in Canutillo.
He only spoke Spanish when he started school, but through perseverance and the help of his homemaker mother and some understanding teachers, he picked up English and excelled academically. By fifth grade he participated in the El Paso Herald-Post Spelling Bee and later was valedictorian of Canutillo High School’s 1978 graduating class.
Coronado received a top academic scholarship from the University of Texas at El Paso and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1982. During breaks from classes or from his student-worker job with UTEP’s admissions office, he would park in a lot on the west side of campus that overlooked Juárez. He sometimes pondered his family’s journey and wondered why some people, including relatives, did not have the opportunities he had.
He enrolled in the UT Austin School of Law and earned his J.D. in 1985. He spent the next five years with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and as assistant county attorney in Travis and El Paso counties. He then joined an El Paso law firm and later decided to open his own practice where he specializes in DWI cases and bond reductions.
“I wanted to be my own boss and have more control,” said Coronado, who talked about his life and the campaign at the same UTEP parking lot off Sun Bowl Drive where he used to count his blessings.
Politically, Coronado won a seat on the Canutillo school board in 2002 and kept it through 2014. He lost elections in 2006 and 2010 for El Paso County judge and in 2014 for justice of the peace Precinct 7. He took a break from public service, but in 2018 the Canutillo school board appointed him to fill an unexpired term. He successfully ran to keep that seat in 2020.
Coronado said his greatest accomplishment on the board was to work with district leadership and outside partners to open an early college high school in 2008 that allows students to earn an associate degree and high school diploma simultaneously.
The candidate said, if elected, he would request a comprehensive flood control plan, review the budget to ensure county employees are compensated fairly, and suggest the addition of a $5 to $10 user fee to car registration, which he estimated would generate $3.5 million to $7 million for county roads.
Coronado also wants more oversight of the hospital district and suggested that the University Medical Center’s Board of Managers be elected and not appointed by commissioners. He also would like to enhance mental health treatment and make it more accessible to help individuals and families before law enforcement needs to get involved. He agreed with the hospital district’s $346 million request for enhancements, but said the request was long overdue, and that organizers should have engaged the public much sooner.
As for the criminal justice system, he plans to ask for additional training for law enforcement personnel to help them deal with calls that involve family conflicts and individuals with possible mental or emotional issues. He also wants to review and, if possible, enhance the county’s probation system to include a post-secondary education component that would help with rehabilitation.
“One of the biggest things we can do for (probationers) is give them some sort of drive or a career,” he said. “It would change their life.”
Coronado has reported raising about $61,800 since December 2021. His donors include Texas state Rep. Joe Moody, businessmen Stanley Jobe and Randall Bowling, attorney Steve Ortega, Woody and Gayle Hunt, and former El Paso Independent School District superintendent Juan Cabrera.
Another donor is Javier Reyes, a real estate investor with ReyesBilt, L.P. He has known Coronado since their days as students at Canutillo Elementary School. He said Coronado’s knowledge and determination, along with his long tenure on the school board makes him the best choice for Precinct 4.
“I just hope that people realize his experience and knowledge, and vote for him,” Reyes said.
When asked by El Paso Matters about a recent tax lawsuit, Coronado said his father transferred property on the 6700 block of Doniphan Drive to him and his brother, Roberto “Bobby” Simental, a candidate for the Canutillo ISD school board in the November election. The city of El Paso’s tax office filed a lawsuit against the brothers for not paying $4,646 (as of Sept. 30) for property taxes in 2020 and 2021. Coronado said, and Simental confirmed, that Simental was responsible to pay the taxes and that he is in the process of taking care of the matter. While not paying property taxes might keep some people from serving on other governmental boards, that is not the case with the El Paso County Commissioners Court.
The winner of the Precinct 4 race must resign from the Canutillo school board before Jan. 1, 2023, as state law does not allow someone to sit on two government agencies that levy taxes in the same area.
Early voting begins Oct. 24.