Regional county judges make appearances at Greg Abbott fundraising event in Fort Stockton

FORT STOCKTON — On Monday night, conservative local notables flocked to the Civic Center in Fort Stockton for a fundraiser to benefit Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s reelection campaign, hosted by the Pecos County Republicans. Among the Far West Texans who turned out in support, Terrell County Judge Dale Carruthers and Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara made an appearance.

Guevara was pleased with the red-white-and-blue celebration. “I enjoyed it immensely,” she said. She found Abbott himself to be “very personable” and even posed for a photograph high-fiving with Abbott and Carruthers. “He really made time to speak to everyone individually, I don’t even think he had time to eat!”

Abbott’s office featured short clips of Carruthers and Guevara on social media: both are former Democrats who switched to the Republican Party for this year’s elections as a reaction to perceived failures on the federal level to handle immigration issues. Abbott’s Twitter thread also pointed out that both judges are representative of “a growing number of Hispanics who have walked away from the Democratic party,” a claim backed up by polling

In her brief social media feature, Guevara explained that she had run for office as a Democrat since 1992, but the “border crisis” pushed her to switch parties. “This is my first year running as a Republican,” she explained. “I’m very happy with Governor Abbott for all he has done for Texas and what he continues to do for Texas.” 

Monday’s event wasn’t Guevara’s or Carruthers’ first in-person brush with the governor: last June, Abbott invited local leaders and law enforcement out to Del Rio for a Border Security Summit. “It was standing room only, and he couldn’t even get four words out before he got a standing ovation,” Guevara remembered. 

Terrell County Judge Dale Caruthers — whose office is in Sanderson — also enjoyed last summer’s event. “I have 91 miles of border, so I have a very active role in securing it,” she said. Both Presidio County and Terrell County received funding from Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s push to fund law enforcement on the border. “Operation Lone Star was a very positive move forward,” Carruthers said. 

Carruthers remembered her community growing up as “predominantly Democrat,” and she ran for both Terrell county commissioner and judge on that ticket. Over time, both her personal politics and the politics of her constituents have shifted. This is the first year she’s officially running for re-election as a Republican. “That was years ago, and there’s been a pendulum swing in the red direction, so to speak,” she said. 

Judge Guevara had also observed a similar shift. Though she hasn’t officially begun campaigning for reelection yet, she says she’s gotten a lot of support from her hometown’s Spanish-speaking community — as well as some pointed questions from coworkers at the courthouse. “I do plan to explain to everyone in the county why I’m running as a Republican and how I would still appreciate their support. I’ll just continue to work hard — my work will be the same, even though I’m under a different title on the ballot.” 

Both Terrell and Presidio counties have also issued disaster proclamations in response to an “invasion” of migrants in recent weeks — Carruthers proudly points out that her county “was one of the first.” She has not been impressed with the Biden administration’s border policy. “I feel like people downplay the [immigration] crisis. They don’t know how severely it’s impacting small communities. The Biden administration created chaos on the border, and we can’t absorb what’s happening to us,” she said. 

Democrats in Presidio County had a much different interpretation of the immigration discourse swirling after Monday’s event. “I grew up in Presidio County, spent most of my time in the military and law enforcement, and I know what our border and our community need to improve our health and safety,” said candidate Jose Portillo, who will oppose Guevara this fall. “Strong words such as ‘invasion’ just sharpens a knife but doesn’t solve the problem. We need to work on better systems of progress and support that elevate our county and its people, not ineffective walls and politics.”

The chair of the Presidio County Democrats, Nicole Swartz, also disagreed with the Republican leaders’ characterization of a rising tide of right-wing voters: “We’re seeing record numbers of people organizing and getting involved with the Democratic Party, and we’re expecting a large turnout of Democratic voters in November.”