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Off Mic

I Drank the Water

The Baja California governor's race just got a lot more interesting. That's because Jorge Hank Rhon, Tijuana's former mayor, got the green light to take part.

In truth, Hank has been campaigning all along. He's appeared as a "non-candidate" at events for other members of his PRI party. He's rarely been seen without his "H7" animal skin vest . H7 is his campaign logo (Hank 2007).

Hank addresses the media after the federal tribunal cleared him to run for governor of Baja California (Cellphone Photo: Amy Isackson)

But a few weeks ago, the state's election tribunal barred Hank from running, saying his candidacy was unconstitutional. Article 42 of Baja California's constitution prohibits elected officials from stepping down early from one office to run for another. Hank left the mayor's seat 10 months before his term ended.

Hank appealed the decision to the federal tribunal ( TRIFE ). Last Friday, the TRIFE overturned the state's decision and ruled state law cannot trump federal law, which guarantees all Mexican citizens the right to run for office.

Though there was no official announcement, reporters knew Hank would wait for the decision at the Palenque on his massive estate in Tijuana. The Palenque is where cockfights are held. It seemed a suitable setting to hear the TRIFE's decision, given the no-holds-barred battle for the governor's seat between Hank's PRI party and the PAN .

The TRIFE said it would announce its decision at 2 p.m. But that turned out to mean at 2 p.m., the six members would begin taking turns reading their long, involved and technical decisions. We reporters sat on the tile floor and listened. The afternoon sun beat down on the Palenque's tin roof.

An hour and a half in, the video feed from Mexico City started fading in and out. The statements were so thick with legalese that few of us could decipher what was being said.

Bottled water labeled "Jorge Hank for Governor" (Cellphone Photo: Amy Isackson)

Two hours passed. My foot fell asleep. Then my leg. Then my other foot. My shirt was damp with sweat. A half-hour later, Hank's campaign manager began passing out bottled water.

My rule as a journalist is no free food, no free drink. Even if it's just water. However, this water was special. It was Hank water, branded with his own "Hank for Governor" label. We wondered if it counted as campaigning, which Hank was legally barred from doing until the TRIFE announced its decision.

I took one, but just as memorabilia, I told myself. I would sweat it out so as not to compromise my rules.

Hour three passed. Things looked to be in Hank's favor and we were shuttled into an even smaller and more cramped room for Hank's press conference. The temperature rose a few degrees. We sweated even more. But, the TRIFE members droned on and on.

Again, the bottles of water came around. This time, I could not resist. The Union-Tribune reporter and I looked at each other. She raised eyebrows. I shrugged. She took a photo of me with her cell phone as I was about to drink. I couldn't help it. I was parched. The AP photographer told me tsk, tsk. I told him I worried now I would turn red, the PRI's signature color.

Little did I know, Hank-branded water would be just the beginning of my drinking with the candidate. More details to come.

-- Amy Isackson covers the border region for KPBS News . Please read our guidelines before posting comments.