SEGUIN - The field of candidates shrunk to nine Monday in the race to succeed Edmund Kuempel in the 82nd Texas Legislature.
Retired Air Force officer, medical administrator and Cibolo resident Jim Fish made an appearance at Monday night's Guadalupe County Republican Women candidate forum for the District 44 seat in the legislature and announced he would be stepping aside, effective immediately.
"I came here tonight because I feel I owe the city of Seguin and my supporters here my gratitude and respect," Fish said.
The candidate, who is well-known as a fearless underdog for taking on Henry Cuellar two years ago in a tough campaign, said he was proud of the field of candidates who had turned out to run for the seat Kuempel held for 28 years up until his Nov. 4 death, but that his family had received news Monday that wasn't good. He didn't say just what that was, but implied a health issue.
"It wasn't very good, and because of that, I'm going to bow out of this race," Fish said. "I really wanted to represent this district, and I felt I was the right man to do it."
Outside, Fish answered a brief question about his health and said he didn't want to comment further.
"I'm OK," he said. "When I ran for Congress, my motto was, ‘faith and family first.' My family needs me now. We're going to come together and work through this."
Fish left the Silver Center, but not before managing a little political joke.
"If anybody wants to know who I would endorse, they can call me," Fish quipped. "Good night, and God bless."
Fish's withdrawal came on the first day of early voting, which Elections Administrator Sue Basham said started off strong in Seguin Monday.
"Seguin seems to be the place where more people are voting," Basham said just after 4 p.m. "At this time, we have voted 429 here. Schertz has voted 100 so far, and up at St. Joseph's around Redwood, they have voted seven."
Guadalupe County Republican Women President Elizabeth Murray-Kolb said her group organized Monday night's event for the seven Republican candidates in the field.
"Part of the Republican Women's responsibility is to educate the public and provide a forum so we can have more informed voters," Murray-Kolb said. "We planned it today for that reason, and we're so happy the candidates are here to speak with us."
With Fish's retirement, six Republicans, all of who attended Monday night's GOP-only event, remained in the race to take over Kuempel's seat. They are Ron Avery, Chris Burchell, Gary Inmon, John Kuempel, Myrna McLeroy and Robin Walker.
They introduced themselves in three-minute presentations similar to those made at several other recent candidate events and took questions from the audience on issues as diverse as the state budget shortfall, immigration and property rights.
Avery, a retired architect and Guadalupe County businessman, said he was running for office among other reasons, to protect property rights and help put Texas back on the path to being a constitutional republic and not a socialist democracy.
"The most basic law in the world is God's law," Avery said. "Governments are not permanent. The United States is not permanent, even the state of Texas is not permanent. They should be led by the principles in the Bible."
Burchell, a Wilson County rancher whose day job is his Bexar County law enforcement career, said he was running because he had concerns about the size and direction of government.
"We don't want to see any more taxes," he said. "We want to see less government.
Inmon, a Schertz attorney with a decade of experience on the board of the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District, said he, too was worried about the size of government - at all levels.
He said he'd like to see the size of government drastically reduced, and taxes and government bureaucracy cut, as well. He would also like to see education refocused a little bit.
"We need to start teaching the difference between right and wrong," he said. "We need to start teaching values and what it takes to make a good citizen."
Kuempel spoke of his recently passed father - Monday was Edmund Kuempel's birthday - and how he believed he'd bring to bear what he'd learned at his father's knee.
"For 28 years, my father was a faithful, faithful public servant who served the people of this district," Kuempel said. "He instilled in me the same commitment to those values. I want to earn your support, go to Austin and work hard to represent you the same way."
Gonzales resident, rancher and businesswoman Myrna McLeroy has spent 40 years fighting in the Republican Party trenches for candidates on the national, state and local level. She said she has serious differences with the way business is done in Austin and promised, if elected, that hers is a voice that would be heard.
"If I go to Austin, I owe them nothing, and I'm not intimidated by anybody up there," McLeroy said. "I will not be beholden to any special interests. I don't need to."
Walker took on the elder Kuempel in the primary election as "the other conservative Republican candidate" and, saddened as she was by his passing, decided to run one more time.
"Gonzales, Wilson and Guadalupe counties deserve a very conservative representative, and I would like to be that representative," Walker said. "I'm qualified and prepared to be your next representative in the Texas Legislature."
Libertarian Tony Gergely and Democrats Daniel Rodriguez Andrade and Cheryl Dees Patterson were not invited.
Early voting ends Dec. 10. The election will be conducted Dec. 14.
If no candidate pulls more than 50 percent of the vote, Gov. Rick Perry will call a runoff election.