Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca hasn’t taken his oath of office yet as governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. But the Texas native has already made political history – twice.
In June, the McAllen-born Cabeza de Vaca won the governorship of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas from Webb County to Brownsville. The victory means that Cabeza de Vaca is the first foreign-born Mexican politician to ever ascend to the governorship of a Mexican state.
Cabeza de Vaca was in Texas this week meeting with lawmakers and other officials as he prepares for his swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 1. He was in Houston Tuesday and on Wednesday visited Austin to meet with Texas leaders about trade, agriculture and border security.
His victory marked the first time voters in Tamaulipas ushered in a politician from the National Action Party (PAN) following more than 80 years of leadership under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
That was the easy part.
Cabeza de Vaca, who previously served as mayor of Reynosa and as a federal senator, has what some call the unenviable task of leading a state that has been wracked by cartel violence and scarred by public corruption. He’s also taking the helm during a presidential year in the United States in which immigration has driven a wedge between voters, especially in Texas.
In Austin Wednesday, Cabeza de Vaca said he was prepared for the challenges and said improving the relationship between Tamaulipas and Texas is one of his priorities. To help prove that, he met with one of Texas’ own colorful figures: Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who also serves as an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump is considered Public Enemy No. 1 south of the Rio Grande for his remarks about Mexicans when he kicked off his campaign last year. He’s also suggested eliminating trade agreements that many Mexicans feel have benefitted that country.
But Cabeza de Vaca insisted Trump isn’t an issue for him when it comes to doing what’s best for people on the border.
“We respect the political situation that goes on here in the United States. We want to work with whoever gets elected. That’s something the Americans have to decide,” he said. “But I can guarantee that we’re going to work together, Tamaulipas and Texas, because we understand one thing: We’re going to try to make the best effort to [improve] the quality of life for people who live on both sides of the border.”
Miller said state leaders wouldn’t consider anything that hurts the Texas' trade relationship with Mexico, which is the state's largest trading partner. But he said the North American Free Trade Agreement is worth revisiting to see what improvements can be made to the pact after 22 years.
“So we’re going to be very conscious of our neighbors and try not to do anything that offends them. We want to work with them,” he said.
When pressed about Trump’s comments about Mexicans, Cabeza de Vaca said he is only interested in what “benefits people on both sides of the border.” Miller then stepped in and offered some clarity on what critics have said are Trump’s wavering positions on immigration.
“Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he’s not interested in disrupting families, or good, hard-working people,” Miller said. “That’s not his concern. He wants to deport the criminal element, the drug dealers, people who have committed crimes up here.”
The governor-elect’s meeting with Miller also included discussions on cattle inspection sites in Mexico, wait times at international land ports and boll weevil eradication on both sides of the river.
Miller also seemed impressed with Cabeza de Vaca’s plan to install a new police force in Tamaulipas, where local police have been replaced with Mexican marine and army units. He said he hoped to have some of his future recruits trained by Texas law enforcement under provisions of the Merida Initiative, an aid package of more than $1 billion to Mexico and Central America that includes equipment and training for foreign police forces.
Asked before his meeting with Miller why he thinks he’ll be different than his predecessors, Cabeza de Vaca pointed to his roots.
“The way I was raised, the places I went to school, the relationship I have with the United States. I have the will to do it and I’ve done it all through my career,” he said. “For the first time in history, Texas will have a neighbor that’s willing to work.”
On Wednesday the governor-elect also met with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
Read more of the Tribune's coverage here:
- Sid Miller Says He's Joining Trump's Agriculture Team
- Mexican Official: Border Security a "Shared Responsibility"