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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, December 8, 2006

Runoff voting goes slow; date given feds’ OK

A total of 144 people in Reeves County cast their ballots in the first 3 1/2 days of early voting for the Dec. 12 runoff election between Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla and his Democratic challenger, Ciro Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, The Department of Justice is allowing Texas to go forward with next Tuesday’s runoff date after federal judges ruled early voting could be extended because the election falls on an important religious day for Catholic Hispanics.

Early voting for Reeves County voters began on Monday and continues from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., on Friday, in the lobby of the courthouse.

Along with the 144 people voting in-person total of 52 ballots by mail have been received at the Reeves County Clerk’s Office. That’s well below the early voting totals for the Nov. 7 election, when ballots were also cast for Reeves County judge and other area races. That election drew over 1,000 people to cast their votes during the two-week early voting period. The last day to receive an application for a ballot by mail was Dec. 8 and the ballots by mail have to be in the county clerk’s office by 7 p.m., on Dec. 12.

Voters will be choosing between the six-term incumbent Henry Bonilla and Rodriguez, a former South Texas congressman who placed second to Bonilla in the Nov. 7 special election.

In preparation for Tuesday’s voting, Reeves County Commissioners were to meet in an emergency meeting at 3 p.m., Thursday, to discuss the relocation of voting box 5, Balmorhea Fire Hall to the Balmorhea Library 102 S. Main Street, Balmorhea. Voting Precinct number are listed below:

Pecos Community Center, 505 S. Oak; 2. Odessa College, 1000 S. Eddy Street; 3. Pecos High School Gym, 1300 Iowa; 4. Toyah Old High School Building, 120 E. 2nd, Toyah; 5. Balmorhea Fire Hall, 4th and San Antonio, Balmorhea; 6. Saragosa Multi-Purpose Center, Saragosa; 7. Reeves County Library, 505 S. Park Street; 8. Lamar Elementary, Rm. #1, Corner of Oak Street; 10. Reeves County Annex N-Side; 700 Daggett Street; 11. Reeves County Civic Center, 1000 S. Cedar Street; 12. Texas-New Mexico Power, 1126 Stafford Blvd.

The Dec. 12 runoff date has angered some Hispanic groups who have said it is an attempt to suppress the Latino vote to boost election chances for Bonilla.

Dec. 12 is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the day many Hispanics mark the appearance of the Virgin Mary before Indian peasant Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. Many Hispanics attend Mass, hold processions and gather with family and friends.

The Voting Rights Act requires states with a history of voting discrimination against minorities to get DOJ approval, known as preclearance, for many elections decisions.

Texas officials had first said they didn't need the preclearance, but later decided to seek it. The law required the state to prove it was not violating the Voting Rights Act by setting the election for Tuesday and allowed groups to file objections. The state also had the opportunity to cure the problems raised by objectors.

In a letter sent to the state, the DOJ said the attorney general did not object to the date or the additional early voting days. The agency can change its mind should new information come to its attention in the remainder of the 60 days it had to review the issue, a DOJ spokeswoman said.

"The day that was set was done in accordance with state law and we have done our best to ensure voters in this district will be well represented and protected in this election," said Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State.

But Luis Vera Jr., national attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens and Rodriguez’s treasurer in the runoff election, said the preclearance wouldn't have been given had the judges not required the extended early voting.

Originally, LULAC had wanted the date moved to Dec. 19. But with time dwindling and the judges' rulings allowing the extended early voting, LULAC dropped that request. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also objected to the vote. Vera said his group still believes the date was picked to affect the election outcome. "Everything that was done in this election was deliberately done to suppress the Latino vote and the workers' vote," said Vera.

Bonilla has represented Reeves County in congress since 1993. The Republican placed first in last month’s special election, but fell just under the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Rodriguez unsuccessfully ran against fellow Democrat Henry Cuellar for his former District 28 seat in Congress back in March, after losing a narrow race to Cuellar in 2004. Cuellar narrowly lost to Bonilla in 2002 for the 23rd District seat, and the realignment of the district that followed by Republicans in the Texas Legislature shifted Cuellar’s hometown of Laredo into Rodriguez’s district.

That action was ruled in violation of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court in July, forcing the state to redraw the district lines before holding special elections in the 23rd and three other congressional districts.

Voters in San Antonio were allowed to get an early start on voting, after a federal judge on Friday agreed to an emergency motion filed the previous day by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund that objected to the state's planned Monday start to early voting in the District 23 race between Bonilla and Rodriguez.

MALDEF argued that the shortened voting period would have violated the Texas Election Code and a federal order redrawing the district.

Gov. Rick Perry had set Dec. 12 as the election date, with early voting to start Monday. But MALDEF said that timetable interfered with Bexar County's plans to start early voting this weekend.

District 23 is made up of all or pieces of 20 Texas counties, which stretches from near El Paso in far West Texas to the Mexican border and into San Antonio. Bexar County is the district's population anchor, and 27 percent of the county is in the district.

Rockets launch effort to boost science test scores

Teachers are coming together in an effort to instill more interest in science in the lower grades and hopefully bring up TAKS scores.

Bessie Haynes Elementary School teachers and staff are coming together with Pecos High School teachers to promote learning and hopefully bring up scores.

Bessie Haynes had low TAKS scores in science last year, receiving the rank of unacceptable in the statewide school rankings that were released in August.

“We’re trying to think of different ways to reach these students and hopefully help them enjoy the subject while learning,” said Pecos High School teacher Cary Hannsz, who took his astronomy class to Bessie Haynes to work on an astronomy project.

“We have other projects planned for throughout the year,” said Hannsz.

“I had my students make model rockets and we are studying rocketry and now we are working with this fifth grade class doing the same project,” he said.

The high school class built their rockets last week and are now showing the lower classman how they did it.

The Bessie Haynes fifth grade enhanced class is also doing a rocket, and the groups plan to launch them next week, weather permitting.

“We’re working with this class, sorting things out and plan to do it with other classes,” said Hannsz. “When we get them built, we’ll use them for multiple grades.

He said that during workshops, the teachers tried to come up with solutions to help bring the science TAKS scores up in the lower grades, since they were not very good this past year.

It was also the first year that science was part of the TAKS testing, which school officials think might be part of the problem.

“We visited with Ms. (new Bessie Haynes Principal LaTanya) Sadler and with other fifth grade teachers, Debbie Florez, who all agreed that we could work together on this,” said Hannsz.

He added that high school biology teacher Barbara Scown is also helping in thinking up ways to help the lower grades.

“I though this would be a good project to get the kids interested in science,” said Hannsz. He said that this particular project incorporated a lot of TAKS activities.

“We use our math skills to calculate how high the rocket goes, so there’s some trigonometry there,” said Hannsz.

He said that they are trying to find projects that will include different disciplines, such as math science and reading skills.

“I plan on coming back, with the astronomy class, we have a telescope at school and I have a personal one and we’ll be using those for another project,” said Hannsz.

He said that they would be doing solar observation during the day and that he will be setting up night labs for during the spring.

“We’re going to try to see how this works and keep the students interested in science,” he said, adding that even at the high school level they are seeing the interest in science declining.

“We want to make it something that they like to do, something they enjoy and still learn,” said Hannsz.

He said that the group of students he is currently working with is a great group, who are really interested in learning.

“They are a really great group of kids, they are the kind of kids that can work with the younger students and really help them,” he said.

Bessie Haynes teacher Annabel Chavez said that they are really excited about this project and other future projects.

“We are also planning to go to the Pecos River, for a water treatment project,” said Chavez. “We’ll test the quality of water, the PH level, electric conductivity, temperature and salinity,” said Hannsz. “We’ll also test dissolved oxygen, which is real important to health,” he said.

Both the high school and elementary school teachers are working hard on other projects as well to help all the students.

Pecos one-night tour stop for San Diego rocker, band

A band from San Diego made a quick stop in Pecos, while traveling on a tour across the United States.

Justin Pearson and some of his band members stayed at the Laura Lodge in Pecos on Wednesday evening, while traveling to another “gig” in El Paso.

“We had been driving for 48 hours and needed to stop,” said Pearson. “We’re on our way to El Paso, where we will play tonight.”

Pearson is a vocalist/bassist for several West Coast punk rock, noise, hardcore bands including Struggle, Swing Kids, The Crimson Curse, The Locust, Holy Molar, Some Girls, Head Wound City, and Ground Unicorn Horn. He is also owner and operator of Three One G Records.

“Our last show was in Amherst, Massachusetts, we did a tour with Converge and booked four shows,” said Pearson.

Pearson currently resides in San Diego as do most of his band members, except for one who lives in Philadelphia.

“Our last album came out in January, so did a tour in the U.S., Japan, New Zealand and Australia,” said Pearson.

Pearson said that he has driven through Pecos a lot of times, but had never stopped here.

“We performed in Odessa, El Paso, San Antonio and Houston, but we’ve never actually stopped here until this time,” said Pearson. Pearson said that he has seen some really strange things, so it was not a “culture shock,” to see West Texas.

“I’ve been all over the world, so nothing surprises me anymore,” he said. “I think that gets me, is how cheap real estate is here, compared to San Diego.”

Another thing that the band has problems with is finding a food establishment that caters to their beliefs. “We’re all vegetarians and sometimes it’s hard to find something to eat, so we end up at the grocery stores,” said Pearson. “And some of us are vegans, which means we don’t eat cheese or products like that either.”

Pearson said that all the band members are really health conscious. The group played in San Antonio during the earlier part of the tour, which started in New York. “We went to Florida, Texas and then back up the east coast and then drove straight here,” he said.

Pearson said that touring is fun, but that it can be tiring.

“I really miss my dog, ‘GeeGee,’” said Pearson. “My best friend and I own the record company and the house, and my mom lives in San Diego also, so they are taking care of her for me,” he said.

County’s October jobless numbers increase

October unemployment was up three-tenths of a percent in Reeves County, according to figures from the Texas Workforce Commission, as the number of jobs and the number of workers in the county continued their declines.

The TWC said the county lost 10 workers and 22 jobs from September to October, falling from 4,159 workers and 267 unemployed, for a 6.4 percent jobless rate, to 4,149 workers and 279 unemployed for an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent. That’s the same as a year ago, but the number of workers in the county has dropped by 96 and the number of those employed has fallen by 89 during that span, according to the state agency’s figures.

The job and labor force numbers continue to be at odds with the sales tax collection totals for the area. While the number of workers has fallen by about 2.4 percent in the past year, tax rebates in the area are up by over 10 percent from the same time in 2005.

Area-wide, most jobless rates were either unchanged from September or just slightly up or down.

Midland County’s unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percent, to 3.4 percent, as the city lost 160 workers and 175 people to its workforce. Ector County’s unemployment rate remained at 3.9 percent for the second month in a row, with an increase of 294 jobs and 282 workers.

Andrews County’s rate fell from 3.9 to 3.7 percent in October, as the number of workers was up 93 while the county added 102 jobs. Brewster County’s rate went from 3.2 to 3.3 percent, as the county added 32 workers and 25 jobs. Crane County’s rate increased from 4.8 to 5.2 percent. The county added 26 workers and 23 jobs. Culberson County’s rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent, with an loss of 17 workers and 16 jobs from August.

Howard County’s unemployment rate fell from 5.3 to 5.2 percent last month. The county saw an increase of 82 workers and 87 jobs from September. Pecos County’s rate was up from 4.8 to 5.0 percent, as the county’s workforce was down by 149 workers while the total number of jobs fell by 155. In Ward County, unemployment held stable at 5.1 percent, with the number of jobs up by 23 while the workforce increased by 20 from September. Winkler County’s unemployment rate was down from 4.6 to 4.5 percent in October, with the county’s workforce up by 20 people while the number of jobs rose by 22.

Presidio County’s jobless rate plunged 2.6 percent for the month, dropping into single digits at 9.4 percent from 12 percent in September. The county’s workforce down by 90 from September, while the number of jobs increased by two from the previous month. Loving County, meanwhile, saw a 3 percent jump in unemployment rate, going from 10.3 to 13.3 percent. The nation’s smallest county saw its total number of jobs drop from 35 to 26, while the workforce fell from 39 to 30, according to the TWC report.

Midland, Phoenix men killed in I-10 truck-vehicle crashes

A Midland man and a highway construction worker from Arizona were killed in separate accidents on Interstate 10 east and west of Reeves County, late Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Ian James Bethke, 30, of Midland, was killed in the first accident, which occurred as the result of a previous accident on I-10, about 20 miles west of Fort Stockton in Pecos County. DPS trooper Edward Prieto of Fort Stockton said the 2005 Ford pickup Bethke was driving crashed into the rear of a 2006 Freightliner truck tractor that was towing a trailer while westbound on the Interstate.

According to the report, the trailer had stopped in the right lane of I-10 due to a previous accident, which had resulted in cattle getting loose on the highway. Bethke, who was not wearing a seat belt, rear-ended the trailer, with the Ford coming to rest beneath the back of the vehicle. The accident occurred at 10:55 p.m. on Tuesday and Bethke was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday by Pecos County Justice of the Peace Robert Gonzales, and his body was taken to Fort Stockton Funeral Home.

The second fatality took place at 1:43 p.m. on Wednesday on I-10 near the 180 mile marker, about 2 1/2 miles east of Kent in Jeff Davis County. According to the report by DPS trooper Derek Pearson of Fort Davis, a 2001 Volvo truck tractor driven by Jaime Adonay Recinos of Sanger, Calif., was towing a trailer while eastbound in a construction zone on I-10 when a road cutting construction vehicle being driven by William Timothy Strange, 40, of Phoenix, Ariz., began backing across the eastbound lanes of the highway headed south.

Pearson said Recinos tried to take evasive action, but struck the left rear of the pavement cutter, causing it to spin and ejecting Strange, who was not wearing a seat belt. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:07 p.m. by Jeff Davis County Justice of the Peace Fred Granado, and his body was taken to El Paso Mortuary Services.

There was no indication on the report if any citations were issued in connection with the accident.

City’s final ’06 rebate check shows big jump

The final sales tax rebate check of 2006 for the Town of Pecos City was up 20 percent from the check received a year ago, and the city’s 12-month total for its 1 1/2-sales tax fell about $1,000 below the $1 million mark, according to figures released on Wednesday by the Texas comptroller’s office.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn issued her final sales tax report for 2006, which showed Pecos received $82,121 for the month, based on taxes collected from sales made during October. That was up 20.16 percent from last December’s check for $68,342, and for all of 2006, the city saw a 13.78 percent increase in its sales tax receipts, which rose from $877,989 to $999,057.

The 13.78 percent rise comes mainly due to the increase in oil and gas production over the past two years in the Permian Basin, and follows up last year’s 10.4 percent increase Pecos saw in its sales tax collections. The city’s tax rebate checks increased in 11 out of the 12 months of 2006.

One-sixth of the city’s total goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations. For the month, the PEDC will receive $13,687 back from Austin, while for all of 2006, the PEDC received $166,510 in sales tax funds.

The 12-month increases for Balmorhea and Toyah were up by an even greater percentage for the year, according to the comptroller’s report. Balmorhea got back $1,685 from its 1 1/2-cent share of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, up 93.32 percent from last year’s $872 check. Overall for 2006, the city got $21,996 back, a 30.11 percent rise from 2005’s total of $16,905.

Toyah’s December check for $400 was 34.1 percent above last year’s $299 total. For the full year, the city got $5,052 from its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, up 15.44 percent from last year’s $4,376.

The Reeves County Hospital District also reported a double-digit rise in its sales tax revenues for both the month and the year as a whole. The hospital district’s 1/2-cent tax netted it a check for $41,493 this month, up 12.39 percent from last year’s $36,919, while for all of 2006, the hospital got $476,876 in tax rebates, a 25.56 percent jump over last year’s total of $379,785.

Across the area, most cities also reported big increases in their tax rebate checks from a year ago, with Andrews again showing the biggest increase. The city, which raised its sales tax from 1 to 1 3/4 percent saw a 78.76 percent jump in its December check, going from $137,359 to $245,549. Midland had the region’s single largest check, just under $2.5 million on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, which was up 31.12 percent from a year ago. Odessa’s 1 1/4-cent sales tax brought the city $1.56 million for the month, a 13.82 percent rise from last December.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received $93,672 this month, an increase of 18.13 percent from a year ago; Crane received a check for $41,362, up 19.98 percent from last year; Lamesa got $74,362 back from the comptroller’s office, which was up 15.32 percent; while Seminole received a check from Austin for $76,379, which was up 28.08 percent.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $45,706 in their December check, up 28.02 percent; Wickett received a $7,847 check, up 115.1 percent, and Wink received a check for $7,444, which was up 56.47 percent. Pyote, received a $642 check this month, down 1.96 percent from a year ago.

For other area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Marfa got a check for $18,020, which was up by 9.33 percent; while Van Horn got a check for $35,729, which was up 44.23 percent from last year.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Big Spring received $376,354, an increase of 6.81 percent; Fort Stockton received $133,768, down 5.09 percent; Monahans received a check for $119,660, which was up 17.45 percent from last year; Grandfalls got a $2,064 check, up 64.9 percent; and Presidio received $25,254, down 8.58 percent.

Statewide, Strayhorn’s office sent out December rebate checks totaling $273.1 million, up 8.03 percent from $252.8 million last year. Houston’s check for just under $34 million was again the largest one sent out, and was 18.32 percent higher than a year ago. Dallas’ check was next, at $16.1 million, which was up by 3.51 percent from last December’s rebate.

Truck thief wrecks west of town

A call about a stolen vehicle turned into an accident call for Pecos Police, which resulted in a Buda man being transported first to Reeves County Hospital and then to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday.

According to the report filed by police officer Felipe Villalobos, the department received a call at 6:39 a.m. that a 2006 white Ford truck had been stolen from a home at 910 S. Ash St., and that the owner was chasing the stolen truck in a second vehicle. The owner told police they were headed towards Toyah on Interstate 20, but later called back to say the vehicles were headed back towards Pecos, and then a third call that the stolen truck had rolled over while trying to exit the highway at Mile Marker 29, 10 miles west of Pecos.

Police arrived on the scene to find the man still inside the overturned truck. Villalobos said the man, identified as Nuth Alfonso Alexander, 25, of Buda, was placed under arrest and taken by Villalobos first to the hospital, where he was checked out by doctors, before being transported to the CJC on a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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