Police Chief Chronicles III: How Mike Hernandez Loses


OPINION — The blueprint for the defeat of Mike Hernandez was created long before the 2024 police chief election heated up. In fact, the blueprint was first introduced in San Angelo political races way back in 2016, and not many noticed. Griffith claims to be the underdog and Hernandez the establishment candidate. It's much more complicated than that, but it may not matter if the blueprint that was introduced and tested from years ago works well enough again.

In local elections, walking door-to-door is the name of the game to win. County Judge Lane Carter, who was aided in his efforts by Travis Griffith in 2022, had the game wired. There are five precincts that matter for winning elections, and all are on the southwest side of San Angelo. Lake View residents do not vote enough to waste much time up north. For the runoff for county judge in 2022, Carter had a Google Map process that placed a red dot on every house that voted in the primary election. Prior to that, he likely used election data to identify homes where a voter had participated in the past two, three, or as many as five previous Republican primaries. This system isn't novel in metro markets and elections, but in San Angelo, the first to adopt big city tactics usually wins something. When I caught up with this house-walking machine, we were already in the runoff.

“If they didn’t vote in the main election, there’s only a five percent chance they’ll vote in the runoff,” Carter instructed me.

Canyon Creek is one of the longest streets in Southland. When I ran for office, being a sales guy, I arrogantly thought I could convince even an Obama-loving liberal Democrat to vote for me, so I knocked on every door. It took me four or five hours to walk both sides. In all, I knocked on 3,500 doors and won 2,024 votes. The rest of the folks I talked to must have lived in Lake View and didn’t vote.

For my campaign, I foolishly executed a Von Schlieffen Plan north through Luxembourg (Lake View) instead of a frontal assault on France (Southland and College Hills). Like Germany in World War I, I ran out of time to fully execute my plan, and those five golden precincts to the southwest were already claimed, primarily by Carter. Candidate Todd Kolls walked his street and quit, I think, though he’ll argue with me on that point.

I recall knocking on a door in The Bluffs that had a Carter sign where an old and grumpy man didn’t just walk out the door but recognized me and came at me like he was going to hit me.

“Sorry, sir. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t forced to put that Carter sign up against your will,” I joked as I backed up.

He shouted a bunch of angry words that may have been obscene and told me to get the hell off his tiny lot. I complied. I still see Grumpy from time to time. I think I saw him reading the scripture at a mass a couple of weeks ago. Talk about PTSD!

In Carter’s plan for Canyon Creek, I was instructed to skip every five or six houses and only knock on doors annotated by the red dot on the Google Map. That many people didn’t vote! It took me 45 minutes to knock on the targeted doors on both sides of that long street instead of the hours it took me weeks prior. It was very efficient.

Carter edged out Kolls in the runoff in absentee, early voting, and election day votes. This was different from other Carter wins. In the primary election weeks earlier, Carter lost to Kolls in the early and absentee voting but made up for it with voter turnout on election day. That’s the way Carter usually wins — with massive votes on the day of the election, not early voting. I wanted to know why.

Something else also accompanies Carter’s victories. Let’s call it the Early Voting Surprise. During the 2016 election for council, days prior to early voting, postcards sent by an anonymous person appeared in mailboxes across the Single Member District 5. The postcards warned voters that Carter's opponent and incumbent Councilwoman Liz Grindstaff was behind a plan to have the city build an expensive water treatment plant that would process sewage. Liz was going to make you drink your own “potty water,” the postcards alleged. No one to this day will admit their involvement with the postcards, and even State Rep. Drew Darby condemned it. Despite having widespread support from the who's who of San Angelo, Grindstaff was a one-termer, and Carter forced a runoff and won it to begin his political career. The postcards were the first Early Voting Surprise that helped Carter win.

During the race for county judge, I was involved in the Early Voting Surprise, but I didn’t know it was by design. Maybe it wasn’t. I had discovered that there was a lien on Kolls’ business from the Texas Workforce Commission and Carter's folks said they knew about it. By this time, I was pretty much back in the role of journalist, and I couldn’t ignore it. After a fairly exhaustive investigation, I determined that it was worse than just a lien. Kolls was habitually late paying unemployment taxes for his business. Voters had the right to know the facts and ask the question: if a candidate who struggled that much with paying a negligible unemployment insurance tax for years was qualified to direct the $65 million county budget? Heck, had I won, I was worried about that budget myself, and I paid my payroll taxes. The bottom line is I believed voters had the need to know, and I published the piece with Kolls’ response.

I was met with a firestorm of criticism and canceled ad contracts — it comes with the territory. Regardless, to this day, I believed it was the right thing to report, and in the news business, you cannot be credible if you fail to report important issues surrounding candidates to avoid a firestorm of criticism.

Incidentally, well after the election, I found a lien against me that I didn’t know existed from the Dove Creek Homeowners Association. Ironically, 2022 candidate for Precinct 4 commissioner Lori Wilson had signed it way back in 2017. It was for $300 in past-due association dues I didn’t know I owed. Wilson, who was the president of Dove Creek back then, never mentioned it to me ever. She might have been waiting to pounce with her own “Early Voting Surprise” had my Von Schlieffen Plan worked!

Did the Early Voting Surprise about Kolls’ payroll taxes work for Carter? You bet it did. Carter won the runoff by 246 votes out of 6,205 ballots counted.

But still, I could not figure out how Carter learned to overlay Google Maps, nor did I completely grasp this Early Voting Surprise tactic.

Meanwhile, the race for police chief between Mike Hernandez and Travis Griffith was on the horizon. I knew Griffith would be backed by Lane. After all, Griffith probably walked most of Lane’s Google Maps with him. We saw them always together.

In the 2024 Police Chief Election, Mike Hernandez had a commanding lead in absentee and early voting with 2,164 for Hernandez to 1,718 for Griffith. Going into election day, Hernandez was winning without a runoff, having a 53% lead. When election day was over, however, Griffith still lost but surprisingly defeated Hernandez 1,370 to 1,122 in in-person-election day voting, forcing a runoff by a margin of just 35 votes. Someone said they saw Griffith campaign workers walking neighborhoods with iPads. It's the maps!

This piece is not intended to predict Hernandez will lose but instead to highlight that if Hernandez loses, this is likely the main reason why based upon history.

The Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operation described here also has another common denominator. Who is the empire builder behind the Carter-Griffith machine? In the next edition of the Police Chief Chronicles, we uncover who the Good 'Ol Boys are.

The year 2016 was absolutely the worst police chief election. I was still trying to figure out how to position our fledgling online paper in the political realm. The lesson ended in the only annual loss San Angelo LIVE! as a company has ever suffered. By the time the Brad Goodwin vs. Carmen Dusek 391st District Judge race, Vasquez vs. Carter police chief race, and Trump concluded, I was left pulling $55,000 out of my own buttocks to cover my company’s loss. I’d rather be pinched by a police chief candidate instead. That was the year I was told by my sales guy that San Angelo political power broker and banker Mike Boyd “would never, ever support me” because I refused to endorse his judge candidate Goodwin. Multiple advertisers pulled over the Vasquez vs. Carter race. Carter had a ton of support but not from me. A large ad buy by Vasquez at the end of his unsuccessful runoff with Carter was never paid. I ate it. My conclusion was that police chief races are bad for business. I also learned that as a company, we would never, ever endorse a political candidate. Folks just don’t want to be told for whom to vote. By the way, that year my competitor, the San Angelo Standard-Times, endorsed Vasquez over Carter. No one complained, either.

About this piece:

In the wild and wacky world of police chief elections, where candidates are more hostile than a porcupine in a balloon factory, the San Angelo LIVE! Publisher Joe Hyde has taken it upon himself to pen a multi-piece exposé. This thrilling saga dives into the history of San Angelo police chief elections since the 2000s, aiming to not only entertain you but also explain why these elections are as tricky as herding cats. Reporting on them? Well, that’s a whole other rodeo, where friendships end faster than a celebrity marriage. Next, brace yourself to learn about information warfare with chemical munitions and all about the Good 'Ol Boys who want to decide this election.

  1. Police Chief Chronicles I: Pinched in the Buttocks
  2. Police Chief Chronicles II: The Smartest Guy Doesn't Always Win the Election
  3. Police Chief Chronicles III: How Hernandez Loses
  4. Police Chief Chronicles IV: Meet the Good 'Ol Boys
  5. Police Chief Chronicles V: Shilling for the Government
  6. Police Chief Chronicles VI: Chemical Munitions
  7. Police Chief Chronicles VII: Timmy 2.0
  8. Police Chief Chronicles VIII: Stolen Valor

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