EDINBURG — His opponents called him arrogant, a bully and a politically motivated prosecutor. But Hidalgo County voters only had one epithet to describe Rene Guerra on Tuesday — their district attorney.
Guerra, 64, celebrated his election to an eighth term in office by announcing that this would be his last. Should he complete his four-year term, he will have served as Hidalgo County’s top prosecutor for 31 years and become one of the state’s longest-serving county prosecutors.
“I know I’m not a perfect man. I know I haven’t made all the best decisions,” he said shortly after announcing his victory to a crowd of loyal supporters. “But I’ve always done the best for the citizens of this county.”
Guerra won a 52-percent majority in the three-man race edging out the next closest opponent – Alma Garza – by more than 6,000 votes. Fidencio Guerra Jr., the third candidate, trailed significantly behind the others capturing less than 12 percent – or just less than 4,500 votes.
Throughout the campaign, both challengers sought to turn the race into a referendum on Rene Guerra’s entire career. And both hit the campaign trail with nearly three decades of ammunition.
Each tried to discredit him by pointing to recent conflicts with some local law enforcement agencies and what they called his record of “compadrismo” that had let political alliances and friendships unduly influence which cases were prosecuted and which were thrown out.
Garza, a 54-year-old criminal defense attorney, employed a similar strategy in 2006, forcing Rene Guerra to a runoff and giving him one of the tightest election challenges of his career before ultimately losing by fewer than 2,000 votes.
This time around, though, she seemed hesitant to attack her opponent with the verve of four years ago. Her criticisms of Rene Guerra this year — painted with a broad brush — failed to hold voters’ attention as they did when she questioned him on specifics such as his 2004 handling of a cold case investigation into the slaying of McAllen school teacher Irene Garza.
But as Alma Garza prepared her supporters for the possibility of a runoff before vote totals were finalized, she already seemed resigned to losing this race and vowed to run again in 2014.
“I like campaigning,” she said. “But I wish it would end tonight.”
Fidencio Guerra, on the other hand, made no qualms about hiding his disdain for the incumbent or his record.
A former state district judge, he has feuded with Rene Guerra for years and drew up campaign signs featuring the district attorney’s name with a slash through it.
“After 27 years, he’s either done something for you or has something over you,” the judge said at several campaign events. “Either way, it buys your support.”
He did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday night and was not at a scheduled results watching party earlier in the evening.
First appointed to his office in 1979, Rene Guerra ran for the post and won his first election three years later.
He vowed to step down this year after beating out Alma Garza in 2006 but said at the start of this year’s campaign he felt compelled to run for an eighth term.
As he addressed a crowd of assistant prosecutors, sheriff’s deputies and loyal supporters Tuesday night, though, he said this time he “definitely” was intent on retiring.
“Look, I’m going to be 65 in May. In four years, I’ll be 69,” he said. “I will have known I did the very best for the county, and I’m ready for someone else to take over.”
Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 587-9377.