Conservative activists in the Rio Grande Valley working toward big victories in 2022 have new reason to be optimistic. Javier Villalobos, a former chair of Hidalgo County GOP, won the mayoral runoff on June 5 with 51 percent of the vote. Though the race is nonpartisan, Republicans see it as a potential sign of victories to come in future elections.
Villalobos, an attorney and McAllen city commissioner, served as Hidalgo County GOP Chair from 2010 to 2014. Villalobos defeated Veronica Vela Whitacre in the runoff. He replaces Mayor Jim Darling, who served since 2013, and is the first registered Republican to serve as mayor since Othal Brand, who left office in 1997.
Hidalgo County GOP celebrated the win and its implications, posting, “A fire was started and it’s gone ablaze!
Villalobos ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism and curbing taxes. Though the race is nonpartisan, the two candidates’ differences were also made known on hot-button issues.
Villalobos expressed his strong support for the police against the “defund the police” movement that took over national conversation in 2020, telling Texas Public Radio, “If somebody has a gun over there, you’re not going to send a social worker.” Vela Whitacre, on the other hand, left her support for defunding the police unknown, expressing to TPR, “We as commissioners and mayor go to budget meetings three days a week for about three weeks in the month of August. And we listen to the department heads, and they give us the reasons why they need those amounts of monies, what they’re going to do with those monies, what projects they’re going to tackle that year … and at that point, as a commission and as mayor, we make the decision [about] which ones are priority.”
Villalobos, however, said defunding the police is not popular among RGV citizens:
“Nobody talks about that. Some people in the north might, but down here, you don’t.”
Gov. Greg Abbott congratulated Villalobos on Facebook, saying, “Javier Villalobos is a proven leader who cares deeply about the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Congratulations on becoming the next Mayor of McAllen!”
In November’s general election, historically Democrat South Texas took a hard lurch to the right, with President Donald Trump flipping several counties and coming within single digits of doing likewise in the RGV. As a result, the Republican National Committee has targeted Texas’ 15th Congressional District as one of the top opportunities to flip a seat in its pursuit of winning back the House of Representatives, where Monica De La Cruz Hernandez (R) is running a high-profile race against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D–McAllen).
Democrats took notice of McAllen’s mayoral results, sounding the alarm on the party’s outreach and progressive policies. Sawyer Hackett, executive director of Julian Castro’s People First Future, tweeted, “If the Democratic Party doesn’t get serious about Latino outreach, we’re in big trouble.”
Democrat Jon Mark Hogg tweeted, “So Republicans won the McAllen and Fort Worth Mayors races. Someone tell me again how we should stick with our current progressive message and strategy in Texas and not try to appeal to conservative/moderate voters.”
Villalobos’ term will last for four years.