Portillo exits Brewster County sheriff’s race

BREWSTER COUNTY — Devon Portillo, the Republican candidate in the Brewster County sheriff’s race, has dropped out.

Portillo had planned to challenge longtime Democratic incumbent Sheriff Ronny Dodson in the November elections, but he officially withdrew from the race last Friday, Lora Nussbaum, the election administrator for Brewster County, confirmed in an email.

Asked about Portillo’s withdrawal, Monica McBride, the Republican county chair for Brewster County, cited personal reasons but otherwise declined to comment further. Portillo also declined to comment on the situation.

Before his withdrawal, Portillo’s challenge to Dodson offered a contested election in a region with complicated political identities that don’t always fit neatly along party lines. On the national front, Brewster County tipped in favor of Donald Trump in 2016 and helped Republican congressman Will Hurd eke out a narrow victory for his final term in TX-23, which is considered among the most competitive districts in the country. But locally, candidates — including conservative ones — have often taken office by running as Democrats, including in uncontested elections.

Dodson isn’t exactly a left-wing radical — he’s a gun-shop owner and advocate for Second Amendment sanctuaries and has expressed concerns about enforcing mask rules in Brewster County — but he is nonetheless a Democrat. Portillo and his allies hoped to turn the office red by replacing Dodson, who has served as sheriff since 2001.

But Portillo’s campaign faced controversy in June after controversial social media from 2013 resurfaced. His Twitter account had posted the n-word and invoked racist stereotypes, as The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported.

Portillo blamed the incident on sabotage and suggested the posts had been recently doctored — but an investigation by The Big Bend Sentinel found evidence that the offensive tweets had been posted as early as 2013, raising doubts about Portillo’s explanations.

Meanwhile, Portillo stood behind another social media post, in which he railed against gay marriage and said that U.S. troops fought in foreign wars “so that we can live freely” and “not so man can lay with man.”

In response, some residents started a Change.org petition calling for his removal from the race.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office previously told The Big Bend Sentinel that petitions weren’t grounds for removing candidates from the ballot — but that didn’t stop many tri-county residents from expressing their displeasure with Portillo. By press time, the petition, which was started in June, had raised more 5,000 signatures  in a region of about 18,000 residents. And even though the petition didn’t have legal authority, in the end, those who signed got what they hoped for.