November 8, 2022 730 PM
PRESIDIO COUNTY — On Election Day, Presidio County voters turned out to cast their ballots in a handful of contested local races that had indicated a deepened party divide in the reliably blue county. Voter turnout ultimately yielded a slate of Democratic winners, who took their victories by significant margins.
The county’s most hotly contested election has resulted in a shake-up in the local halls of power — in the race for county judge, two-term incumbent Cinderela Guevara was unseated by former Presidio City Administrator Jose Portillo Jr. after switching her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Portillo won 66.88% of the vote with 1,228 votes overall; Guevara, who had held the office since 2014, garnered 608 votes.
Guevara’s switch, which she told The Big Bend Sentinel was prompted by her hardlined anti-abortion stance, had been an acknowledged risk in a county that consistently puts Democrats in local office. Guevara told The Sentinel that when she made the switch, she did not believe she would win in November; that certainty shifted in the months leading up to the election as momentum for local Republican candidates gained steam amidst support from political action committee Project Red Texas.
The PAC, with the stated mission of getting Republicans elected to local office in “targeted counties” like Presidio, contributed yard signs to all three Republican candidates running in
the county; the combined value of the signs given to Guevara’s campaign totaled $1,361. The switch also drew the attention of the Presidio Democrats, which disseminated attack ads highlighting Guevara’s new party affiliation.
Despite the loss, Guevara is grateful for all she has learned as a public servant in Presidio County. “Words cannot express how grateful I am to God — I feel I am very blessed,” she said on Wednesday. “It’s been a wonderful experience and a great honor, and I’m going to miss all the people I’ve been able to meet and work with who care about the county.”
Guevara served in the courthouse for a total of 32 years — 24 years as justice of the peace and then eight years as county judge. She counts strides in the county’s emergency response systems — the implementation of a state-of-the-art reverse 911 system and designated shelters — as some of her proudest accomplishments. “It’s been a privilege to serve the people for so long,” she said.
Guevara plans to stay in her hometown of Marfa after her term ends in January. She’s not sure exactly what she’ll do for work yet, but she knows one thing for certain — she’ll cherish being able to spend more time with her family. “I’m happy to have already assumed a new title,” she said. “It’s ‘grandma.’”
Down in Presidio, a triumphant Portillo attended a small election night gathering at the home of a friend, where menudo and tequila marked a festive atmosphere as the final results were announced. Portillo read the county clerk’s tabulation aloud: Portillo 1228, Guevara 608. “I’m humbled, I’m excited — I feel like I’m on a cloud,” Portillo said.
Portillo is the first native Presidian to be elected county judge — a fact that was not lost on anyone in attendance. “It’s something I don’t take for granted,” he said. “The truth is, we’re not going to make this a better county unless we all work together. I think that the people who know me know that, if anything, I’m fair, I’m deliberate.”
Former City Councilmember Billy Hernandez, who attended the festivities on Tuesday night, was ecstatic. “It’s about time we elected a county judge from Presidio,” he said, pointing out that Presidio is home to roughly double the population of Marfa. “We didn’t just make history — we rewrote it.”
Despite the hometown enthusiasm, just under half the votes cast for Portillo were cast in Marfa — the two towns had roughly equal numbers of voters turnout. “I’m very appreciative of everyone that voted for me. And to the ones that didn’t, for whatever reason — I hope to win them over. They’ll see that my door will always be open,” Portillo said.
The remaining contested local races easily went to Democrats as well. In the race for county commissioner Precinct 4, Democrat David Beebe garnered 73.08% of the vote at 570, versus Republican opponent Garey Willbanks’ 280. Beebe, when reached for comment, said he was excited about the next chapter of his life as a public servant in Presidio County. “I’m super grateful to everyone who supported me — I think people are really looking for something different,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the statewide races, but locally we’re not about divisive politics.”
There are a few issues Beebe wants to tackle when he takes office in January, but his greater project as commissioner is to improve working conditions for county employees. “The employees have kept the county afloat for a long time, and I think we can do better for them,” he said. “I want the county to be the best place to work in the county.”
Democrat and incumbent County Treasurer Frances Garcia won against Republican David Chavez with 60.90% of the vote, the final tally being 1,050 to 674. In a statement, Chavez congratulated his opponent on her victory. “The voters of Presidio County have spoken,” said Chavez. “My opponent captured the winning vote by a wide margin. Accordingly, I wish to congratulate her on her win. Moreover, I wish her success in her next four years as the county treasurer.”
Democrat Margarito Hernandez, Presidio’s police chief, faced no opposition in the race for county commissioner Precinct 2, having beat out Abel “Billy” Hernandez in the primary. Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Democrat Dina Jo Marquez also ran unopposed, as did Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 incumbent Democrat Juanita Urias Bishop. Presidio County Clerk Florcita Zubia was uncontested in her run to continue in the position.
On Election Day in Marfa, as voters trickled into the USO Building, candidates staked out near the polling place were joined by citizens encouraging voter turnout. Beebe was stationed under a tree equipped with signs, as wife and Democratic organizer Hilary reached out to voters who had yet to cast their ballots.
Guevara was posted across the street, sitting in a lawn chair in the sun next to a sign advertising her campaign. She told The Sentinel she was taking on her routine election activity of rounding up non-voters and offering to drive them to the polls before close. “I’ve just been knocking on doors and trying to go over the list and see who hasn’t voted, then I’m actually going to go look for them and ask them to come and vote,” she said, adding that the offer for a ride would stand regardless of how they planned to vote. “Voting is important,” she said. “It’s not all about me.”
Volunteer group Marfa Steps Up manned a table nearby with free doughnuts and coffee for voters. The idea was to encourage voting, and to engender a spirit of community that transcends politics, volunteers explained. And down the block, a slightly different form of activism took place, as multi-Grammy-nominated cellist Matt Haimovitz, having recently bought a house in Marfa, played Bach’s Cello Suites from his truck bed.
The unorthodox concert was part of the Play for the Vote initiative, which aims to “amplify voter turnout through the power of music,” per the group’s website. The initiative was launched by Hamovitz’s friend and fellow cellist Mike Block. “He thought it would be nice to make everybody’s experience more humane and human,” Haimovitz explained.
Haimovitz, who said it was his first time voting in Texas, had hoped to play inside the polling location but was told there was no music allowed, so settled for the outdoor setting. The setlist was varied, incorporating both old and new works. “The most universal music that I play are the Bach Cello Suites — that appeals to a broad range of people,” he said.
But he was also using the platform as an opportunity to premiere original works born out of a Marfa-based project — The Primavera Project is a series of compositions inspired by Primavera 2020, Marfa-based artist Charline von Hayl’s response to early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera. Composer Asher Sizmore wrote a piece called “Six Graces” to be performed by Haimovitz for the project.
Portillo, meanwhile, spent Election Day staking out a spot across the street from the County Annex building at the start of early voting, waving to passers-by and addressing questions from potential constituents. He and his supporters kept a steady presence there for weeks — all the way through 7 p.m. on Election Day, when the polls shuttered.
By the end of each afternoon, the vacant lot became a hub of activity. Locals pulled over and got out of their cars to mingle and share their hopes and concerns with Portillo — about rural healthcare, public schools, stalled construction on the bridge, tensions in the courthouse. “I think that they sense there’s no teamwork,” Portillo said of county politics the morning of the election. “They’re looking for a fresh start.”
Noteworthy state, district results for Presidio County
In the race for Governor, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott won reelection, beating out Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who held a rally in Alpine while on the campaign trail in September. But Presidio County voters favored O’Rourke, with 66% of those who cast their ballots in the race opting for the Democratic candidate at a total of 1,113 votes. Abbott received 561 votes in the county; few voters went for third-party candidates.
For U.S. Representative District 23, Republican incumbent Tony Gonzales won re-election over Democratic challenger John Lira. Presidio County voters, however, voted overwhelmingly for Lira. At 1,025 total votes, Lira secured 62% of the vote; Gonzales received 550 votes in the county, and 79 voters cast their ballots for third-party candidate Frank Lopez Jr.
For State Senator District 29, Democratic incumbent Cesar Blanco defeated Republican Derek Zubeldia. In Presidio County, Blanco was favored by a landslide, winning a whopping 75% of the vote, with 1,284 votes total to Zubeldia’s 418.
For State Representative District 74, Democratic incumbent Eddie Morales was victorious against Republican Katherine Parker of Alpine. In Presidio County, 1,280 voters cast their ballots for Morales while 459 voted for Parker, meaning Morales earned 74% of the Presidio County vote.
Contested races in Brewster and Jeff Davis Counties
In Brewster County, Republican Greg Henington won with 60.67% of the vote against Democrat Oscar Cobos with 39.33% of the vote. Incumbent Eleazar Cano decided not to seek reelection this year.
For County Commissioner Precinct 2 — which covers Terlingua north of FM 170 — incumbent Sara Colando won against Republican challenger Mark Chiles by only 14 votes. The two candidates had 50.62% and 49.38% of the vote, respectively.
For Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace, Republican Paul Rashott took 53.65% of the vote against Democrat Tim Relleva, who earned 46.35% of the vote. Incumbent Jim Burr decided not to seek reelection and is retiring at the end of the year.
In Jeff Davis County, the Commissioners Court Precinct 2 seat went to Republican Roy Hurley, who won by 10 votes against Democratic challenger Todd Jagger. The two candidates earned 115 and 105 votes, respectively.
In Precinct 4, Republican Royce Laskoskie won by 5 votes against incumbent Democrat Albert Miller. The two candidates earned 144 and 139 votes, respectively.