EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar announced Monday she will not seek reelection.
Escobar said announcing her intentions today will allow qualified community residents to consider running for County Judge.
The County is planning for a county-wide primary in March 2018.
"My thanks go out to each and every one of you for all you do for El Paso and all you've done for the County and for me," Escobar said in a letter emailed to ABC-7.
In the past, ABC-7 has asked the county judge if she is planning to run for the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Beto O'Rourke. Escobar has said she is considering the option, but never confirmed she was running.
O'Rourke, who decided not to seek re-election, will challenge Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican.
"I hope our next County Judge has an ambitious vision for El Paso and will help continue to advance our position as a statewide leader. I hope our next County Judge continues to support and lead internal reforms that we still need at the County," Escobar said, further stating "I hope our next County Judge will be a strong voice for El Paso and defend our values and identity. And I hope that next leader will begin a new era in County government -- one we can all continue to be proud of."
BELOW IS THE MESSAGE SENT BY COUNTY JUDGE ESCOBAR:
Today I'm announcing that I do not intend to seek re-election as El Paso County Judge.
It truly has been my privilege and honor to serve our community as County Judge and County Commissioner. I take great pride in the work we've done and in knowing that this decade has been transformational.
When I first walked into the county on January 1, 2007, our organization was in the grips of crippling corruption and dysfunction. There was weak governance, no long-term or strategic planning, little process, accountability and transparency, and low morale. Decision-making was driven by crisis (and at times, self-dealing) rather than sound public policy.
When I started my tenure at the County, my goal was to work with others to reform our antiquated organization; create a professional, highly-functioning government; collaborate with other governments to reduce costs; provide greater oversight and accountability over our public dollars; and, build a government that led with vision.
The County has realized many of the goals I started with back in 2007, and more.
El Paso County Commissioners Court no longer micromanages the day-to-day functions of the County. Instead, we are more effective at governance through our focus on long-term planning, public policy implementation and reform. We are engaging in strategic planning and performance-based budgeting, holding ourselves and our departments accountable. We have reformed departments internally in order to be more responsive to taxpayers, the customer and the public; we have assembled an excellent team of professionals who are helping us execute the policies we enact; and, we hired an El Pasoan to be our Chief Administrator and lead our centralized administration - a talented leader who is as committed to our community as she is to the County.
Changing State Laws to Improve Local Government
From creating the State's only ethics legislation, to adding transparency and accountability to the Emergency Services Districts, and creating opportunities to consolidate our housing authorities, El Paso County led the way in the state of Texas, passing legislation that helped modernize and strengthen our public entities.
Investing in our Workforce
One of the most challenging issues for El Paso is our stagnant wages. If we expect the private sector to pay competitive salaries, the public sector must hold itself to the same standard. El Paso County as an organization went from paying some of the lowest salaries in the region to finally being competitive. The organization now has a minimum wage of $10.82 per hour and over the last several years our employees' salaries increased by 18%. We also worked with the UMC board and CEO to increase salaries there, starting with those lowest paid associates, whose minimum wage was increased to $10 per hour. The salaries our employees earn go right back into the community and our economy. We have also supplied our workforce with the tools they need to be responsive to the public - from new computers and software that create efficient workflows, to new fleet and radio equipment for law enforcement officers who keep our community safe. We also worked with community stakeholders to increase our prevailing wages so that the El Pasoans who work on our construction projects also get paid competitive wages.
Increased Access to Affordable Healthcare
Through investments made in infrastructure and people, University Medical Center has been able to expand access to affordable healthcare, provide the community with more physicians and access points via clinics in different parts of town. The building of El Paso Children's Hospital, voted on in 2007, has helped parents and their children stay in El Paso instead of seeking care in other parts of Texas and the Southwest. These assets belong to the community and have created hundreds of new healthcare jobs while keeping our community healthy and strong.
Investing in Infrastructure
El Paso County is working to address the needs of a growing community. We are building more water infrastructure, helping more families living in colonias finally gain access to water and wastewater services. We have built county annexes on the east and west side of town that bring county departments to the people we serve. And, we are building more roads and connectivity, especially in the unincorporated areas of our community. We worked with Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton and members of the state delegation to allow the County to increase our vehicle registration fee - a user fee that is building more highways. Chairman Houghton doubled our money and as a result of our decision, we are creating significantly greater capacity on our roadways.
Advocated for Equality and Dignity
El Paso County was one of the first in Texas to support providing benefits for domestic partners and has been on the forefront of fighting for equal rights for all. We have also stood against legislation and policies that have been contrary to our community's long history of advancing civil and human rights.
Strong Advocacy for El Paso and the Border
It's been my personal privilege to have been a strong voice for El Paso and the Border. From testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee where I challenged misinformation that came from committee member and senator John McCain, to speeches in different parts of the state that dispelled the myths about the Border, to four opinion pieces published in the New York Times - I have been a passionate advocate for the community we love.
Fiscal Responsibility & Strategic Investment
There is so much more to be proud of. El Paso County has innumerable other projects and plans that are ongoing, and we have worked hard to achieve a strong financial position. We are one of the least-indebted counties in the state and our finances are in excellent shape. We have done a great job funding new initiatives and projects with savings we created from ongoing reform.
We are also working on building a better community through exciting economic development projects, historic preservation and enhancement, collaboration with UTEP at our Fabens Airport, and a new port of entry.
No large organization is perfect, and we still have much work to do, but I know that the County is in a much better place today than when I first walked in those doors. We have attracted and retained talented professionals and leaders, all of whom have been a pleasure to work with.
I am especially grateful to have a wonderful Commissioners Court - people who are dedicated to service and who have a vision for our community. They are all hard-working, committed, ethical leaders whose strong leadership has advanced our goals and our ambition for El Paso.
It took all of us - elected officials and employees - working together to make this remarkable evolution possible. It took support from the private sector and the business community as well, along with the assistance and support from an engaged community. I will be eternally grateful to everyone for their support and their collaboration.
I believe announcing my intention today will allow enough time for qualified and talented leaders from the community to consider running for this critical position and to plan for a county-wide primary in March 2018.
My thanks go out to each and every one of you for all you do for El Paso and all you've done for the County and for me.
I hope our next County Judge has an ambitious vision for El Paso and will help continue to advance our position as a statewide leader. I hope our next County Judge continues to support and lead internal reforms that we still need at the County. I hope our next County Judge will be a strong voice for El Paso and defend our values and identity. And I hope that next leader will begin a new era in County government -- one we can all continue to be proud of.
El Paso County Judge