Victoria County judge candidates banking on experience, change
Feb. 5, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 4, 2014 at 8:05 p.m.
• 70 years old
• Juris Doctor from St. Mary's School of Law
• County judge since 2003
• Vietnam veteran, 1968 to 1970; private attorney since 1971
• Member of the Republican Party since 2013
• Appointed by the governor to the Golden Crescent Regional Review Committee, serves on local emergency planning committee as well as with the airport, public hospital, economic development corporation, workforce commission, juvenile board and metropolitan planning organizations
• 29 years old
• Masters of Business Administration from Texas A&M-San Antonio
• Senior loan officer at Texas Dow Employee Credit Union
• Adjunct business professor at Victoria College
• Active with the State Republican Executive Committee, oversaw management and budget of state party
No county judge in Victoria has ever been elected a fourth term, but incumbent Don Pozzi is hoping to break the cycle.
But political newcomer Ben Zeller, a 29-year-old loan supervisor, is vying for the same Republican Party nomination with hopes to make it to the November election.
"What I remind folks is someone's qualifications for office isn't based on the number of years you've walked on the earth; it's what you've done in the time you've been here," Zeller said.
Pozzi, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and lawyer, said the judge's seat isn't the place to start a political career.
"Leadership is something you earn over the years and that you're respected for," he said. "It takes experience, knowledge of county government, working with others, honesty and integrity."
According to the Texas Association of Counties, the county judge's responsibilities include presiding over the commissioners court, which has budgetary and administrative authority over county government operations, as well as preparing the county budget, calling elections and being the head of civil defense and disaster relief.
A law degree is not required to be county judge.
Zeller is using his business and banking background to focus his campaign on lowering taxes.
Under Pozzi's leadership, the county tax rate has remained 33.86 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Zeller points out that even though the tax rate has remained steady, property values are increasing, and so are the county's revenues. He did not elaborate about what programs or departments he would cut if he successfully lowered the tax rate.
Pozzi said that during the recession, the county took a hit by not raising the tax rate. The increases in revenue seen now are going toward reinstating employee benefits that were cut after a $3.5 million budget shortfall from 2009 to 2011 as well as adding 14 new employees.
Looking toward another term, Pozzi said he wants to address service at Victoria Regional Airport and find an airline that will provide more reliable flights. He is also working toward expanding county offices to the Hartman Building, renovating the old fire station for courtroom space and road improvements in Precinct 1 for economic development efforts.
Zeller said his focus is on lowering the tax rate, encouraging economic development and enhancing transparency.
"Incumbents who have been in office 12, 16 years - we're not seeing a whole lot of relative tax relief ideas or creative solutions to our problems," Zeller said. "It's time for a change."
Zeller's campaign treasurer, Daniel Goyen, said the pair have been friends since college.
Goyen said Zeller's strong character and family values will make him an excellent judge.
"What people perceive to be a lack of experience can be overcome with him being able to lean on the experience of the county commissioners," Goyen said. "He has the right mindset to lead with that bulldog mentality and will go to bat for the taxpayer."
In early campaign efforts, Zeller has raised $4,325 and given his campaign a personal loan of $15,000, according to his financial report filed Jan. 14.
Pozzi, who started fundraising in November, has taken in $57,815 for his campaign, according to his financial report filed Jan. 15.
Robby Burdge, his campaign treasurer, said Pozzi is a conservative, prudent leader.
"I want him to have another term because we have unfinished business," Burdge said. "We need to continue the progress that we have made, and that takes experience and dedication."
Burdge, who has donated $5,000 to the campaign, said Pozzi has continued to demonstrate his dedication to the county through his budgets, going after economic opportunities and ensuring the county's best interests are at heart.
"You've got to have leaders who are willing to make hard choices," Burdge said. "We're lucky and blessed to have him as our county judge."