EDINBURG, Texas – The chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party says she is not fazed by her counterpart in the GOP getting statewide attention. 

Adrienne Peña-Garza, the Hidalgo County Republican Party chair, is on the front cover of the latest issue of Texas Monthly. The headline of the in-depth cover story is: Why Democrats Are Losing Tejanos. It focuses on the inroads the GOP are making in traditionally Democratic South Texas. 

Norma Ramirez, the Hidalgo County Democratic Party chair, says there were extenuating circumstances for the success President Trump had in South Texas in the 2020 presidential election.

“I have heard so much about the increased impact and turnout of Tejano Republicans during the 2020 General election in Hidalgo County. I assure you that this Bluest county of Texas will always remain BLUE,” said Ramirez (pictured above).

“It is important to note that Tejanos vote with the Democratic Party because of our common shared values: love of family, assisting and supporting those in our society that need help, affordable housing, improving access to education and better jobs and working conditions, fairness and justice, access to affordable healthcare, etc.”

Trump picked up more votes than Joe Biden in Zapata County in 2020, and he surged in Starr County and cities like McAllen. U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen, barely won re-election in a district that was considered safely in the Blue column.

“Did the Republican Party perform better than previously? The answer is unquestionably yes,” Ramirez acknowledged. However, she said there were three major reason why Republicans had a better voter turnout than in previous elections in her county.

One of the reasons, Ramirez said, were comments Joe Biden made during the presidential campaign about turning away from fossil fuels.

“When the Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden called for action against the oil and gas industry, it was bound to have a negative effect on the voting in South Texas. Nearly every family in South Texas has someone that works in the industry and is the breadwinner of the house. Candidate Biden’s comments about the oil and gas industry during the presidential debate was not helpful,” Ramirez said. She cited two stories about this from the Washington Post. (Editor’s Note: Click here and here to read them.)

Norma Ramirez

The second reason the GOP did better, Ramirez said, was that unlike the GOP, Democrats did not campaign door-to-door due to Covid-19.

“Democrats were mindful of the CDC guidelines on COVID 19. This limited our voter contacts while the reckless Republicans were in full campaign mode,” Ramirez said.

“We did not engage in many of our usual methods of GOTV such as block walking. The limited ability of Democrats to engage voters directly hurt our ability to bring out votes.”

CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control. GOTV stands for Get Out the Vote.

The third reason Ramirez gave was closet Republicans running and winning in Democratic Party primaries. She said they are doing this because it is the only way to achieve political success in the county. By doing this they are blunting the Democratic Party’s message, Ramirez claimed.

By way of an example, Ramirez cited Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, who ran and won as a Democrat in 2018 but has made financial donations to the campaigns of Republican candidates in the past. While county judge, Cortez publicly campaigned for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, in the 2020 elections, Ramirez.

“Mr. Cortez knew that the only way to win a countywide election in Hidalgo County was to run as a Democrat, an old trick by many local Republicans. I must applaud the Republicans for their creativity. This was one of many plans to turn our county Red.”

Ramirez said she is considering running for Hidalgo County Judge against Cortez in the Democratic Party primary next March.

Ramirez said it is clear Democrats must “redouble our efforts” in Hidalgo County.

Adrienne Peña-Garza

“We must unite against Republican chameleons who run as Democrats, educate statewide and national candidates on the unique political culture of South Texas and continue to redouble our GOTV efforts including enhanced voter registration and canvassing,” Ramirez said.

“If you look at the enormous amount of resources poured by state and national Republicans you will conclude that they have had a terrible return on their investment. My goal is to keep it that way and keep our county Blue.”

The Texas Monthly article on the march of Republicans in South Texas was penned by freelance reporter Jack Herrera. In the piece he quotes former Starr County Republican Party chair Ross Barrera and Peña-Garza, the Hidalgo County GOP chair. The cover story includes this paragraph:

Adrienne Peña-Garza, the Hidalgo County Republican chair, said Hispanic South Texans, who have long been conservative, “have become liberated” to vote on their long-held beliefs. “People have been bullied into voting Democrat. If you got involved [in conservative politics], people said, ‘I’m not going to give you this contract; I’m not going to give you this job.’ But I think the bullying has backfired. People are more empowered and courageous.”

Macarena Martinez

Macarena Martinez, the Republican National Committee spokesperson, was thrilled to see the spotlight shining on the GOP’s efforts to breakthrough in South Texas.

“Republican values are Hispanic values: faith, family, entrepreneurship, freedom, and opportunity, which is why we’ve continued to see a historic number of Hispanics join the GOP across Texas,” Martinez said.

“The radicalization of Joe Biden and the Democrat Party has also contributed to this shift as both Republicans and Hispanics condemn Biden’s anti-life actions, increased lockdowns, economic restraints, support of the ‘Defund the Police’ movement, and inaction on the border crisis.”

Martinez pointed out that the RNC has already opened an office in Laredo and plans to open one in McAllen very soon.

Mari Regalado is a former chair of Texas Democratic Women who lives in the Valley. 

“I don’t agree Mexicanos want to be white, as the Texas Monthly article suggests,” Regalado said. “They care about the new voting restrictions the Republican have enacted in Austin. They care about the GOP’s new restrictions on abortion. Many of us do not support abortion but there are times, such as incest, rape, and health problems with the child or the mother, when an abortion may be needed. These new laws are going to hurt the Republicans. They want to take us back to the 1970s.”

Mari Regalado

Nonetheless, Regalado said the Democratic National Committee (DNC) needs to pay attention to the “huge push” Republicans are making in South Texas. 

“The state’s Democratic Party said it was going to have a post mortem on why we did not do as well as expected in 2020. We thought that coming out of that we would see a significant increase in resources in the Valley. There is no sign of that,” Regalado said.

“I want to know where the DNC is. They need to open up an office in the Valley, like the Republicans are doing. We have seen nothing.”

One saving grace for Democrats in South Texas, Regalado said, is that Republican Governor Greg Abbott is deeply unpopular right now.

“People are criticizing Abbott tremendously, for people not wearing a mask, for their children catching Covid in school, for allowing weapons to run around for free. People are afraid for their safety. It is not about we want to be white or black. The Tejanos are concerned about their families.”