MCALLEN, Texas – McAllen’s new mayor has pushed back against claims by national Republican strategists and GOP-friendly media outlets that he won his election because he is a Republican.
Yes, Javier Villalobos was chairman of the Hidalgo County Republican Party for four years a few years back. But, he is quick to point out, mayoral races are not party political in nature and he did not have an “R” against his name on the ballot.
“I know the national party and the state party are excited that they have somebody who is known to be conservative, elected in McAllen, but this was not a partisan race,” Villalobos told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Villalobos said it would be “foolhardy” for him to make a big splash about his GOP credentials if he wants to get resources from the federal government, which is currently Democratic. Besides which, he said, the local legislative delegation at the federal and state level are 100 percent Democrat.
“You know how they work in Austin? They work across party lines. They have to work together otherwise they would not get anything done. Our two state senators, they work with their colleagues across the other side of the aisle,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos was referring to state Sens. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. Both are Democrats who work with Republican leaders in Austin to bring home the bacon for the Valley.
“Here in the Valley, it is not partisan. Water, sewer, police protection, everything is provided, not because you are Republican or Democrat, Independent or Libertarian. It is provided because we work together,” Villalobos said.
“I am going to do what I have to do regardless of party politics. When it comes to Austin and Washington, of course we can work with everyone, we have to. That is just the way it is.”
A few enterprising GOP strategists noticed that Villalobos was a Republican and his opponent in the McAllen mayoral runoff race, Veronica Vela Whitacre, was a Democrat. Although the race was very close, with Villalobos winning by just a couple of percentage points, and the turnout was only 12.5 percent, they spun it that McAllen had turned Red. Some media outlets fell for it.
“GOP flips Texas town that voted for Biden, Clinton,” screamed a Fox News story headline. The excitement led to Villalobos going on Sean Hannity’s TV program on Fox, Stuart Varney’s TV program on Fox Business, and Steve Bannon’s radio show. Varney, for one, clearly did not know much about McAllen because he kept referring to it as “McLaren.”
On each show Villalobos pointed out the mayoral race was non-partisan. And he did not take the bait when asked if his victory was spurred by opposition to President Biden’s immigration policies. Instead, he said, the top issues were drainage and traffic concerns. He did, though, make the conservative pundits happy by saying he was a fiscal conservative.
Villalobos acknowledges that party affiliation did not come up in the numerous candidate forums he participated in. In addition to addressing local bread and butter issues, Villalobos kept stressing that it was his experience that set him apart.
“I know I had some people who did not vote for me because I was a former Republican Party chair. They told it to my face. But, you know what, at the very end I was always touting my experience. Party politics should not enter a mayoral race.”
Some conservative commentators also claimed Villalobos was the first Republican to win a McAllen mayoral race. Party political allegiance is not stated in a city council or commission race. Nonetheless, former Republicans to have won mayoral races in McAllen include Othal Brand, Sr., Richard Cortez and Jim Darling. Cortez later ran as a Democrat when competing for and winning the Hidalgo County Judge slot.
As an example of the way party politics does not come into mayoral races, the recent election saw Othal Brand, Jr., a hardcore Republican, supporting Vela Whitacre, a Democrat, in the runoff, and State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, a hardcore Democrat, supporting Villalobos.
Because party politics does not enter mayoral races, many Republicans have been able to win in the Valley. Recent examples include Norberto ‘Beto’ Salinas in Mission, Ric Morales in Donna, and Chris Boswell in Harlingen.
When high profile Democrats have run for city commission slots in McAllen they have often lost. For example, Ric Godinez and Rosalie Weisfeld. Indeed, Vela Whitacre claimed during the recent election that she was the only Democrat on McAllen City Commission. She said all of her colleagues, including Mayor Darling, were Republicans. Villalobos has a different recollection. He said he thought he was the only Republican commissioner and everyone else on the commission was Democrat.
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