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Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano Won’t Seek Reelection

The top elected official in the county home to Big Bend National Park says he wants to spend more time with family in San Angelo.

By Travis Bubenik

Eleazar Cano, the top official in Brewster County, said Tuesday that he will not run for reelection in 2022.

Cano, a Democrat, has served as Brewster County Judge since 2015. His tenure has been marked by everything from a high-profile local controversy over a natural gas pipeline to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the Big Bend region and its tourism-dependent economy.

In an interview with Marfa Public Radio, Cano said he was planning to run again as recently as this summer, but ultimately changed his mind so that he could spend more time with his children, who live in San Angelo with his ex-wife.

“They’re little, they grow up so fast,” he said. “I’d rather step away from the county responsibilities and then be in a position where I could be gone on a more regular basis and it not create problems.”

Cano said he won’t be moving away from the Alpine area, but will split his time between there and San Angelo.

Cano was first elected as county judge in 2014, when he defeated Republican Jerry Johnson.

Like other county judges across Texas, Cano’s role over the past two years has largely centered on the local response to the pandemic.

His move early in the pandemic to temporarily shut down hotels prompted a lawsuit from J.P. Bryan, the owner of the Gage Hotel in Marathon. Though the closures were brief - hotels were allowed to fully reopen within about a month - Bryan has insisted the loss of tourist revenue hurt the business.

On Wednesday, a federal district judge rejected a lower judge’s recommendation that the case be thrown out, instead ruling Bryan could continue with the lawsuit and his claims that the closing of hotels was unconstitutional.

Still, even as that case continues to play out, Cano said his decision to not run in 2022 was influenced “very little” by his experience as an elected official during the pandemic.

“All things being equal, if my kiddos were still here in Alpine, I’d run,” he said. “Without a doubt.”

Mary Bell Lockhart, the local Democratic Party chair, said she had tried to convince Cano to stay in the race. She praised Cano’s management of the county courthouse and said he had worked to make commissioners’ court meetings more accessible to the public.

“He’s done a good job, a very good job,” she said. “There’s not many people that can step into that kind of job.”

As of Wednesday, Texas Secretary of State records showed only two candidates in the running for Brewster County Judge ahead of the March 2022 primary: Oscar Cobos on the Democratic ticket and Greg Hennington on the Republican side.

Cano said he would like to see Democrats keep control of the county judge’s seat, though he described the job as a less-partisan one than higher-up offices.

“Counties such as ours, smaller counties, I think it’s about the person, not the party affiliation necessarily,” he said.

Still, he suggested the county judge’s race in 2022 might be more competitive than in recent years.

“There’s changes coming around, where Republicans are becoming more and more prevalent and prominent in these communities and these counties,” he said. “The tide is turning, where even when I ran last time, it was real close.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.