Questions about local ballot loom: Two candidates’ petitions rejected after filing deadline
By Miles Smith
It remains unclear as of press time on Wednesday who will appear on the Republican primary ballot after petitions by county clerk candidate Debbie Sanders and justice of the peace Pct. 1 candidate Suzy Falgout were rejected by the Caldwell County GOP chair days after the filing deadline.
Republican county clerk candidate Sanders’ petition to run in the primary was rejected by the Caldwell County GOP on Tuesday — eight days after the filing deadline — after Democrat Teresa Rodriguez challenged a clerical error on her application, according to county party chair Kathy Haigler.
“Absolutely will appeal,” Sanders said in an e-mail sent Tuesday to the Post-Register. If her appeal is unsuccessful, Rodriguez would run unopposed in the November general election.
Pct. 1 JP hopeful Falgout has appealed the Caldwell County Republican Party’s decision to reject her petition to challenge incumbent Matt Kiely in the primary due to what it said was an error the candidate made on the application.
The Third District Court of Appeals in Austin granted Falgout’s request for emergency relief, allowing her to participate in the Thursday drawing for order of names on the ballot. But, as of press time, the court had not ruled whether she will appear on the actual ballot.
In a letter dated Dec. 14, Haigler rejected Falgout’s petition to challenge incumbent Matt Kiely, citing the error that had been discovered following a challenge made just after the filing deadline.
According to the suit filed in the Third Court, Kiely issued the challenge. According to the court order, Haigler “rejected the petition, refusing to allow Falgout to cure the error.”
In a written statement submitted Wednesday to the Post-Register, Falgout accused Kiely of waiting until after the filing period was over to point out the error so that he could run unopposed on the GOP ticket.
“The substance of our case is that the SOS form erroneously omitted “political party” from the petition leading candidates to place the year before “primary” on the form. Caldwell County Chair Kathy Haigler did not catch the error either after we filed in early November,” Falgout wrote. “Matt Keily, the opponent, requested a copy of the petitions to review in late November and waited until after the filing period ended to file a challenge with Chair Haigler. This, of course, prevented either myself or Chair Haigler from correcting the error.
“While Mr. Keily thought that by waiting until after the filing period to challenge the application he would get the benefit of an unopposed candidacy, the Texas Supreme Court has previously held that candidates have the opportunity to abate challenges like his and cure any error. We are confident that the court will allow us to cure and remain on the primary ballot.”
The county GOP chair’s letter to Falgout acknowledges that she submitted the application in mid November.
“On November 17, 2017, we accepted your application and petitions and placed your name on the Secretary of State’s website as a candidate in “Filed” status,” states a letter to Falgout bearing Haigler’s signature. “We received a challenge to your petitions in lieu of a filing fee at 6:01 p.m. on December 11, 2017. Upon review, we found a flaw in the statement on top of each page of your petitions in the bank at the beginning of the second line. Your petitions say ‘2018’ rather than the word ‘Republican’ as required by Texas Election Code Section 172.02 …”
Haigler said Sanders’ application contained the same error.
The Third District Court of Appeals wrote in its ruling that it requests a response no later than Thursday, Dec. 21. The GOP chair said Wednesday it was preparing to file its response with the Third District Court of Appeals.
“We hope to have a resolution by Friday,” she added.
The chair said that while this was the first time such a thing had occurred since she became the county’s GOP chair, it was not unusual to see it happen in a local race before a primary election.
“This is not uncommon,” she said. “We’ll take it as it comes. We expect we’ll get an answer by the end of the week.”
Falgout said an unfavorable ruling would not spell the end of her bid to unseat Kiely as JP 1.
“If my appeal isn’t successful, I will continue to campaign and ask that people write me in on the ballot,” Falgout said. “I can guarantee I will be an excellent JP.”
Falgout was the only Republican to petition to challenge Kiely in the primary. The Republican primary winner will face Democrat Aurora “Rhoda” Chavira in the general election.
Candidates who filed petitions in two other races were ruled ineligible to run. Haigler said Kip Portis changed his mind and stopped payment on his check to disqualify himself from the race for Caldwell County Pct. 1 commissioner, and J.K. “Jake” Innerarity of Rosanky’s attempt to register to vote in time to file his petition wasn’t cleared soon enough to satisfy the filing deadline.