In his inaugural address in 1995, George W. Bush called the presence in Austin of governors of Mexican states “a clear sign of the importance of the relationship between Texas and Mexico.”
At his 2003 inauguration, Rick Perry called the governors of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas “special guests” and “friends,” and in his 2007 speech, he said the attendance of the governors of Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Zacatecas was a sign that Texas “always proudly rolled out the welcome mat.” He also welcomed Mexican governors in 2011, according to transcripts. So did Ann Richards in 1991.
But when Gov.-elect Greg Abbott takes his oath of office on Tuesday, governors from Mexico will not be at the event — a break in tradition during the change of the guard at the Texas Capitol. That's according to a list of Mexican dignitaries expected at the inauguration provided by a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Nandita Berry.
“We have not received a formal invitation, and I presume that’s the same for the other governors” of Mexican states that border Texas, Guillermo Martinez, a spokesman for Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantú, said Friday.
When asked whether any Mexican governors were invited to the inauguration, the Berry spokeswoman, Alicia Pierce, said the inaugural committee could better answer that question. A spokesman for the inaugural committee did not respond to questions about whether Mexican governors were invited. In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Friday, Abbott demurred when asked whether Mexican governors were invited.
"It will come as no surprise that, consistent with my campaign for governor, you will see a level of Hispanic theme in the inauguration," Abbott said.
Abbott touted his wife’s Hispanic roots during his campaign and visited the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso often before Election Day.
John Wittman, the Abbott inaugural committee spokesman, said several high-ranking Mexican officials will be in Austin. They include Dr. Sergio Alcocer, the undersecretary for North American affairs; José Octavio Tripp, the consul general for Mexico in Dallas; and Carlos González, the consul general for Mexico in Sacramento.
The inauguration comes at a time when Mexico is the state’s No. 1 trade partner and is opening its energy sector to private investment, which many see as a potential boon to Texas’ economy. From January to November, more than $326 billion in combined two-way trade passed through the Laredo and El Paso customs districts.
Given those economic and cultural ties, it is unfortunate the governors will not be in Austin, said Duncan Wood, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
“The opportunities for deepening the relationship between Texas and Mexico are multiple and abundant,” he said. “So it seems a great shame that this opportunity to involve Mexican border governors in a relationship with the new administration is being passed up.”
Texas’ leaders have also been critical of Mexico’s government, specifically on the issues of illegal immigration and border security. In September, Perry accused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto of doing little to stop the surge of undocumented immigrants who poured into the Rio Grande Valley last summer.
Martinez, the spokesman for Tamaulipas' Torre, said his office stood ready to continue promoting his state’s economic agenda in Texas.
“We have a stupendous relationship with the business community in Texas, with the universities in Texas, and we’re promoting our energy initiatives [there],” he said. He added that Torre recently traveled to the Eagle Ford Shale and to Austin to meet with academics, energy experts and businesspeople.
Rolando Pablos, a board member of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas PAC and a former Perry appointee to the Public Utility Commission, cautioned against reading too much into who attends Abbott’s inauguration.
“I think Gov.-elect Abbott’s commitment to Mexico and to developing relations with Mexico is pretty clear, especially by the fact that he appointed [former Cameron County Judge Carlos] Cascos as secretary of state,” he said. “I think it’s been a busy last couple of months, and so I am not worried about it all. I know for sure Gov. Abbott is going to step up Texas-Mexico relations.”
Reporter Reeve Hamilton contributed to this story.