UPDATED February 19.

A “hard Democrat” appointed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last year as interim Nueces County district attorney is running for election to the office this year in the Republican primary.

James “Jimmy” Granberry, a DWI defense attorney with a history of voting for and supporting Democrats, was appointed by Abbott last October to fill the unexpired term of Mark Gonzalez, a progressive Democrat who resigned as the county’s DA to run for U.S. Senate.

Local grassroots Republicans were stunned when Abbott chose Granberry to fill the seat through the end of 2024 over the well-qualified Republican candidate they endorsed, James Sales.

Sales has worked as a prosecutor for three decades, including as an assistant district attorney in Nueces County.

During a candidate forum earlier this month, Sales said the race is about more than qualifications and experience.

“The other factor in a primary is whether you are a Republican or if you are a Democrat,” said Sales.

Sales said Granberry’s history of supporting Democrat candidates and organizations like ActBlue and Planned Parenthood means “you are a Democrat.”

Granberry responded, “If all you want is the best Republican, then maybe I’m not the best choice for you.”

He said he didn’t get into the political world until right before the governor called and people “solicited” him to take the appointment.

I chose, when I was called, to be a Republican. So now I am a Republican, because there’s not a test. There’s not a blood test. There’s not a written test. I decided to be a Republican for my community. I did this for the right reasons and because I want to make my community better.

Abbott is endorsing Granberry in the primary.

Most Nueces County Republican precinct chairs are again backing Sales.

According to information shared with GOP precinct chairs last month, Granberry told a group of constituents in November that local Abbott contributor Robert Pate had recruited candidates for the open DA spot.

Pate is an attorney and visiting district judge who in the 1990s was appointed temporarily to the 28th and 148th district courts in Nueces County by then-Gov. George Bush. Pate is also chairman of the Texas Racing Commission. Abbott appointed Pate to the commission in 2019 and named him chairman in 2021. Pate’s son Gardner Pate is Abbott’s chief of staff.

Granberry reportedly said Pate first recruited another local attorney who declined but suggested Granberry apply. He did and said “Pate recommended me.”

Asked why he’s now running as a Republican, Granberry reportedly said, “That was part of the deal.”

Sales supporters say they want a district attorney who represents Republican values, not someone who adopted the party label for expediency.

Other Nueces County Republicans are okay with the deal.

Last year, local GOP activist Suzanne Guggenheim called Abbott’s appointment of Granberry “a slap in the face to the Republican Party.”

But this year the vetting committee of the organization she heads, the Coastal Bend Republican Coalition, is endorsing Granberry in the GOP primary.

“I am just as mad at the governor for doing this as I was on the day it was announced,” Guggenheim told Texas Scorecard. “Why would the governor go and dig out someone who had no Republican credentials and had voted D as often as R in the last few years, when he could have found a known Republican to fill the position?”

But despite being one of the most vocal GOP precinct chairs against Abbott’s appointment of Granberry, she said the reality she and the coalition’s vetting committee faced was that Sales—certainly the “best Republican” in the race—did not organize a campaign or create a “path to victory” in the General Election against a Democrat opponent she described as “worse than Gonzalez.”

She said it was a tough decision to back a candidate who candidly acknowledged he was not the best Republican, although he answered questions about judicial philosophy, values, and religious liberty “very satisfactorily.”

Guggenheim added that Republican judges in the county say Granberry is doing a good job cleaning up the mess left by Gonzalez and reorganizing the DA’s office.

Prosecutor Kristi Britt is also running in the Republican primary for Nueces County DA.

Early voting starts February 20. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, March 5.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.