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More south Texas border Democrats switching to Republican Party

Neighboring Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez, also heavily involved in Operation Lone Star, told The Center Square the Democratic Party doesn’t represent his or his community’s values.

Published: December 5, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

More south Texas Democratic officials in border communities are switching, or already switched, to the Republican Party.

Kenedy County Attorney Allison Strauss and Pecos County Sheriff Thomas Perkins announced they are running for reelection as Republicans, leaving the Democratic Party.

They made their announcements ahead of a Dec. 11 deadline for the March primary election.

They join Kleberg County Attorney Kira Talip Sanchez and Terrell County Precinct 3 Commissioner Arnulfo Serna, who already switched parties, citing the border crisis. State Reps. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, in Starr County, and J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, also previously left the Democratic Party. Lozano’s district includes Kleberg County.

All of these border counties are participating in Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star. When Sanchez announced, she highlighted her office’s work in OLS “to ensure the safety of the citizens of Kleberg County,” adding that “There is an unprecedented crisis at our Southern Border. I believe that the GOP’s policies of law and order protecting safety, and backing the blue best align with my values and the values of the citizens of Kleberg County.”

Neighboring Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez, also heavily involved in OLS, told The Center Square the Democratic Party doesn’t represent his or his community’s values.

Project Red first announced that Strauss was running for reelection as a Republican. The organization has helped recruit Republican candidates and has been successful flipping dozens of county-level offices from Democrat to Republican statewide.

It also posted Perkins’ announcement on social media: “After much thought and consideration, I will be seeking re-election in the Republican primary for Sheriff of Pecos County. This region is a hotbed for border criminal activity, and Governor Abbott has shown his commitment to helping us in the area to better serve our counties.”

Pecos and Terrell counties were among the first to issue disaster declarations in 2021, joining over 60 counties that have done so. They remain in a state of emergency, citing the border crisis. They were also among the first to declare an invasion in 2022, joining nearly 50 counties so far that have also cited the border crisis.

Serna joining the Republican Party solidified Republican control of Terrell County’s commissioners court, which represents fewer than 1,000 residents. They’ve expressed shock and fear as thousands of illegal foreign nationals have come through their tiny community since President Joe Biden took office.

Terrell County Judge Dale Carruthers was one of the first Democrats to call out the crisis along the border, not only switching to the Republican Party but as one of the first judges to declare an invasion on July 5, 2022.

A year after declaring an invasion, she gave a warning to Americans in an exclusive interview with The Center Square. “It’s been 2.5 years, from day one we’ve been at it,” she said in July. “If we didn’t have Operation Lone Star, we’d be in a world of hurt.”

“This is who is coming through, large groups” of mostly single military age men, cartel “runners, traffickers, and smugglers come through Terrell County,” she said, adding that they are heading north to other communities across the state and country. They’re trespassing, breaking and entering, stealing, “smuggling people, exploiting people, kidnapping children, selling women and men into slave trade. If that doesn’t frighten you, nothing will,” she warned.

Abbott commended her when she switched parties, saying she did so because of Biden's “failed open border policies.” She was also “joining a growing number of Hispanics who have walked away from the Democratic Party,” he said, a view supported by Hispanic Texans in a poll conducted last year.

Pecos and Terrell counties are located in the Big Bend Sector in far west Texas, where Border Patrol agents alone apprehended 11,823 illegal foreign nationals and reported at least 9,173 gotaways in fiscal 2023, the most in recorded history, The Center Square exclusively reported.

The Rio Grande Valley Sector, which includes Kenedy, Kleburg, and Starr counties, has historically reported among the highest numbers of illegal border crossers in the state and country. Law enforcement officers also are regularly apprehending human smugglers there.

RGV Sector Border Patrol agents apprehended 338,337 illegal foreign nationals and reported 33,648 gotaways in fiscal 2023. The official gotaways number was significantly less than normal years because of agents being pulled from the field, Border Patrol agents have explained to The Center Square.

In an effort to help law enforcement, Guillen filed several border security bills this year, including one signed into law by Abbott. It increases penalties for those engaged in human smuggling and/or operating stash houses.

“Republicans continue to make significant inroads in Texas border communities and other historically blue regions of the state,” Project Red Texas Director Wayne Hamilton said in a statement. The group was founded in 2018 at a time when numerous Texas counties that historically voted for Democrats voted for Republicans. At the same time, few Republicans were elected locally or even filed to run for office.

In 2020, for example, Kleberg County, residents made history. After decades of historically voting Democrat, they voted for former President Donald Trump by over 50%.

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