Maggie Hernandez Moreno and Sandra Sepulveda Lopez, runoff candidates for the Hays County Justice of the Peace Place 2 Democratic nomination, know they have a lot in common.
Both are Hispanic women in their mid-30s, born and raised in San Marcos. Both hold government jobs and are in the process of obtaining criminal justice degrees. Both say they are eager to do a job that sometimes involves running out in the middle of the night to respond to a death and then presiding over court the next morning.
The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will face Republican Shane Scott, a former San Marcos City Council member, in November.
The $65,000 per year job has duties ranging from certifying circumstances when someone dies to hearing minor misdemeanor court cases. Though the position works closely with law enforcement and involves court duties, it requires neither a peace officer license nor a law degree in small counties such as Hays.
Moreno, 33, is a public health and prevention specialist with the Department of State Health Services. She watched her mother, Margie Hernandez, preside over the JP office for 12 years. When Hernandez died in April 2015, her caseload was transferred to the other San Marcos-based JP and there was a possibility the seat would be eliminated.
The push to keep it inspired Moreno to run, she said.
“Seeing the community support we got moved me,” Moreno said. “I wanted to make sure the next person who held the seat was someone the community would come out and support.”
She said she’s been more active in area community groups than Lopez and understands local concerns about balancing penalties for poor behavior against fines that many can’t pay. Her job has given her experience providing public services, she said.
Lopez, 36, a constable administrative assistant, said her job has given her far more experience relevant to the JP job. She has dealt with county politics, seen law enforcement work on a daily basis and served as a Spanish interpreter in court, she said.
“We may have the same general ideas, but I understand the system a lot better,” Lopez said. “I’ve seen the system on both ends. The verdicts that are rendered in (the JP’s) office, the fines and fees, they affect people in real life.”
Lopez said she has close ties to local schools, through her four children, and would like to work with them on outreach to young people who could end up in court.