It’s too early to tell how much Valley politics are changing

As a native of the Rio Grande Valley, I feel safe saying that there has never been as much scrutiny of the Valley’s voting habits as we are seeing right now.

Much of it centers on whether this longtime Democratic stronghold is turning Republican.

To understand the Valley’s original border politics, it’s helpful to look back at one of the Valley’s giants: the late Democratic Congressman Kika de la Garza.

De la Garza, who served 32 years in the United States House, was the epitome of a Valley Democrat, in the sense that he was a bundle of contradictions.

He championed funding for higher education in his district and supported increases in the minimum wage. But he was anti-abortion and tended to be hostile to gun control.

He believed in strong border security, but spoke out if he felt Republicans were demonizing undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

In response to a 1996 GOP immigration bill that, among other things, gave states the ability to bar undocumented children from public schools, de la Garza said, “We are almost to the point where I’m tempted to move an amendment that anyone descended from a foreigner must return to their country of origin. That’s pretty much what we’re doing.

While Democrats have controlled the Valley for ages, the area has always had a strong conservative streak. Anyone who assumes the Valley is getting more conservative these days might want to look into de la Garza’s electoral history.

In his 1964 Democratic primary race for Congress, de la Garza, the favorite of Valley business leaders, defeated his opponent, Lindsey Rodriguez d’Hidalgo, warning voters that Rodriguez would respond to the interests of working people. .

In the 1964 general election, de la Garza was so concerned about appearing too liberal to the district electorate that he refused to endorse a health insurance plan proposed by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson.

De la Garza’s fear of being seen as a proponent of socialized medicine was so extreme that he refused to answer a question about Medicare at a candidate forum.

After the forum, one of the attendees approached de la Garza, seeking to clarify the candidate’s position.

According to the participant’s subsequent letter to the Brownsville Herald, a crestfallen de la Garza said, “I’ll tell you privately one day.”

All the contradictions of Valley politics were present in de la Garza’s story and they are just as clear now.

The valley has long suffered from severe economic hardship and severe income inequality. Democrats governed the Valley based on tradition and family history, but also because Valley voters looked to Democrats to preserve the social safety net, support public education, and provide infrastructure funds to their communities.

But the Valley is also a region that values ​​law enforcement, values ​​faith, has a strong gun culture, and embraces the spirit of entrepreneurship. It’s not new. But this is where the GOP is trying to make inroads.

It’s tempting to look at recent voting numbers and conclude that the Valley is going through a political realignment. But this is something that needs to be approached with caution.

In politics, numbers don’t necessarily lie. But they can certainly mislead.

Take the example of Starr County.

It would be accurate to say that Republican turnout in Starr County was up 7,193% in this year’s primary compared to the 2018 primary. Given that only 15 Republican voters turned out in Starr County to the 2018 primary, any increase would seem astronomical.

Ultimately, nearly 62,000 Valley residents voted in this year’s Democratic primary, compared to just over 27,000 Republicans — a margin of more than 2 to 1.

While that represents substantial progress for the GOP, which was outnumbered in the Valley by more than 5-1 in the 2018 primary, it doesn’t take into account the nuances of the races.

There are no apples to apples comparisons when we look at voter turnout in various counties over different election cycles because the candidates are not the same and the dynamics are not the same.

In 2018, statewide competitive racing was on the Democratic side. This time they were on the Republican side. This explains at least part of the change in participation.

In 2004, Republican President George W. Bush actually defeated his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, in Cameron County. The Republicans had reason to believe the Valley was headed their way.

Four years later, Republican presidential candidate John McCain lost Cameron County by 29 percentage points to Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

The valley is definitely an area of ​​opportunity for the GOP. But it is too early to tell if they will be able to capitalize on this opportunity.

[email protected] | Twitter: @gilgamesh470

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