McALLEN — Attorney General Greg Abbott didn’t quite call the Rio Grande Valley a third world country on Tuesday, but the Republican gubernatorial candidate’s comparison between local corruption scandals and “third-world country practices” struck a nerve regardless.
Speaking in Dallas, Abbott unveiled a nearly $300 million public safety plan, which included boosting border security with 500 additional state troopers and southbound checkpoints at border crossings. The formal 60-page plan and Abbott’s speech also referenced several major corruption scandals involving the Cameron County judicial system and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
“This creeping corruption resembles third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans’ trust and confidence in government,” Abbott said Tuesday.
Local Democrats quickly denounced Abbott on Twitter. In Austin, the Travis County Democratic Party organized an impromptu protest. And State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, blasted Abbott and demanded an apology.
“It’s become a common thread during the Republican primary to make a spectacle of South Texas,” Canales said, adding that Republicans hype border security for purely political reasons. “It’s always negative and I, for one, am tired of it.”
Canales called Abbott’s remarks offensive and ignorant.
“I think it’s inappropriate; I think he misspoke,” Canales said. “And I think it’s worthy of an apology to the people of South Texas.”
Last February, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a study, which found Texas actually had lower violent crime rates along the border from 2004 to 2011. Crime data also showed the violent crime rate dropped statewide, with larger decreases on the border than non-border areas. Property crime rates along the border generally matched non-border property crime rates during the seven-year period.
The study compared border county crime to non-border county crime using Uniform Crime Reporting data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The data, though, doesn’t encompass all crime along the border.
Border Patrol agents assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Sector apprehended about 154,000 people last fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the highest number since 1999 and more than any other sector along the southwest border.
On Tuesday, Abbott proposed improving border security with additional funding and manpower for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Along with reducing violent crime, the plan would target public corruption.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing corruption among local, state and federal law enforcement officers themselves,” Abbott said. “A former Starr County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced last year for accepting bribes to protect drug dealers and their smuggling routes. Members of a drug enforcement task force and other law enforcement agents in Hidalgo County are awaiting sentencing for money laundering and drug smuggling. A former state district judge was convicted for accepting money in return for favorable rulings in a public corruption investigation that included a former district attorney and a former state representative.
“This creeping corruption resembles third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans trust and confidence in government,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s comments referenced the cash-for-favors scandal, which rocked the Cameron County judicial system, and the Panama Unit scandal, which ensnared Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño’s son. The written report on Abbott’s campaign website included additional examples, including the federal indictment of Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Jose Padilla.
“Hard to argue his statement about corruption,” said State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, adding that the scandals have damaged public trust. “Now, in terms of comparing us to a third-world country? I disagree with that statement. That’s over the top.”
While the Valley still struggles with poverty, Hinojosa said growth and development have dramatically improved education, healthcare and the regional economy.
“People usually focus on the negative. They don’t focus on the positive. And they’re very quick to condemn the border because we’re next to Mexico,” Hinojosa said. “We do have issues. We do have problems, but nothing compared to a third-world country.”
WATCH ABBOTT'S SPEECH: