Last year, Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner appointed a Democrat to a vacant seat on the Potter County Commission. Now, she is being taken to task over the issue ahead of the hotly contested Republican primary race for county judge.

In November 2021, Tanner selected Robert Ruiz, a Democrat, to fill a vacant seat on the county commission ahead of the 2022 election for the seat. The Precinct 2 seat to which Tanner appointed Ruiz had been held by Democrat Mercy Murguia until her sudden resignation last year.

Tanner’s decision to appoint Ruiz upheld the county commission’s slim 3-2 Republican majority.

Ruiz was selected for the appointment from a pool of applicants that also included Republicans from Precinct 2, including firefighter Blair Schaffer, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for the seat this March and is set to face Ruiz in November.

Now, the appointment of Ruiz has become a hot topic in Tanner’s bid for re-election to the office of county judge. Tanner’s opponents have spent the past two weeks slamming her on social media for appointing a Democrat to the county commission and have demanded answers as to why she selected a Democrat over qualified Republicans for the position and, in doing so, catered to Democrats over members of her own party.

“It’s just another example of supposed Republicans betraying the conservative values that most Potter County voters believe and vote for,” Amarillo Taxpayers PAC treasurer Noah Dawson said. Dawson’s PAC has been one of the leading critics of Tanner’s decision to appoint Ruiz.

Despite the criticism, Tanner released a social media post last week defending the selection of Ruiz for appointment to the seat.

“That seat has been a democrat seat for over 35 years,” Tanner wrote in a Facebook post. “The citizens in precinct 2 voted for Mercy Murguia to fill that seat after she was appointed to fill that seat following the untimely death of Manny Perez. Mercy served her community well. She made a decision to leave Amarillo before this term was up. The people in that precinct voted her in and I felt I should follow their wishes for a democrat to finish out that term.”

Still, that explanation is not good enough for those concerned about their Republican elected officials catering to Democrats.

“That precinct has elected both Republicans and Democrats to various positions for years,” Dawson said. “The myth that a Republican would be incapable of representing that precinct is completely false, especially when there are qualified Republicans applying for that position.”

Precinct 2 is currently represented by a Republican justice of the peace, Robert Taylor, who is seeking re-election, in addition to Commissioner Ruiz and Constable Georgia Estrada, both Democrats. Taylor was elected to his seat over a Democrat opponent in 2018 and will again face a Democrat for the seat this year.

Tanner’s primary opponent, retired cybersecurity specialist Ed Heath, also criticized Tanner for siding with “RINOs,” saying she is not advocating the right priorities that Amarillo taxpayers need today.

“Our nation is under attack by those who put their integrity after their pocketbook, and it’s time the Republican Party closes its ranks and supports real Republicans versus RINOs,” Heath said. “We need principled leaders in office from city councils, school boards, county judges and all the way up to the Oval Office. Our current Potter County judge is not exhibiting the type of leadership we need to save our county and our country. It’s time for change in our nation.”

The issue of Republicans bowing down to Democrats is not only being discussed in regards to this race; voters across Texas have been demanding answers from their Republican representatives this primary cycle as to why Democrats have been appointed to chair powerful legislative committees despite Republicans holding majorities in the Texas House and Texas Senate. The issue has become so prevalent on the campaign trail, in fact, that Republican primary voters will decide a primary ballot issue this year asking whether Democrats should continue to be appointed to chair powerful House committees while Republicans have the majority.

Early voting will continue until Friday. Election Day is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.

Thomas Warren

Thomas Warren, III is the editor-in-chief of the Amarillo Pioneer newspaper in Amarillo, Texas.