The race for the next Cameron County Sheriff will go to a runoff election in May following a close race between incumbent Sheriff Omar Lucio and challenger Eric Garza on Tuesday night.
None of the three candidates running garnered the 50% plus one vote required to win the Democratic nomination. Lucio came in first with 13,951 votes, or 43.16% of the total. Garza closely followed with a total of 13,238 votes, or 40.95% of the total. The final count showed that the third candidate, Michael Galvan, collected 5,136 votes, or 15.89%.
Early voting results showed Garza barely leading the race, with 42.68% of the vote. Those results positioned Garza at a near-tie with incumbent Sheriff Omar Lucio, who won 7,629 early votes, at 42.49%.
The winner of May’s the runoff election will face off against Republican candidate John Chambers, a former chief of the Indian Lake Police Department, in November.
Lucio encouraged voters to come out to polling stations despite the overcast, rainy weather on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked why voters should elect him to run for a sixth term, Lucio said they should take into consideration his experience and record as sheriff when deciding where to cast votes in the three-person race.
“I love law enforcement, I love the Sheriff’s Office, and I love to help people. I have the experience, I have the education, I have the wisdom, I have the administrative skills, and I have proven to the public that we have been able to build a Sheriff’s Office that is one of the top law enforcement agencies in the state, if not the nation,” he said outside Burns Elementary School in Brownsville.
The incumbent sheriff said his deputies are stationed strategically throughout the roughly 1,362 square miles of county land and that they respond to calls “within a period of 8 to 12 minutes.”
“That really keeps the crime rate down. When you have a high visibility of the patrol division, then you’re going to lower the rate of the crime,” said Lucio, noting that his office has made an effort to collaborate with other state and federal agencies to ensure the safety of Cameron County communities.
One of Lucio’s challengers, former district clerk Eric Garza, said it’s time for Cameron County to elect a new sheriff. Under his direction, the office would place emphasis on community policing initiatives and auditing equipment and resources. “This has been a very educational race. It showed me that we have a lot of work to do at the Sheriff’s Office to be able to serve our constituents,” he said.
“Cameron County has a diverse population, and it’s growing. We have to change with the times. We have to make sure we know what problems residents have. I want to be a proactive Sheriff, I don’t want to be a reactive sheriff.”
Garza said one of his first moves in office would be to conduct a full audit of the office’s equipment and resources, including things like computers, body cams, and dash cams. He shared that another project would involve making sure that the four jails the office maintains are kept in full compliance and that staff salaries are fair and fiscally responsible.
Michael Galvan, the former San Benito police chief also running to unseat Lucio, said that he would also be reviewing staff salaries if elected sheriff, as the department currently has a lot of turnover. “If we can work on our salaries and try to raise that, we can try to keep some of those employees instead of losing them to state and federal positions,” he said.
Galvan argued that due to staffing issues, the department actually isn’t able to cover the county to the best of its ability, as Lucio claimed. Galvan is a sitting city council member in Palm Valley, which he says gave him insight into the issue at hand.
“I started to look at our reports and started realizing that some of our calls and service for police are out of our city limits. When I asked, ‘What’s going on here?’, I learned that these were cases where the county asked for backup,” he said.
“That leaves our community unprotected. Don’t get me wrong, we should all back each other up in times of need. But if our small city is supplementing the county’s budget, that’s where we need to draw the line.”
Additionally, Galvan mentioned issues with jail compliance as a main agenda item should voters elect him to run for the office in the November General Election. “We have to make sure that it is audited more frequently to avoid those pitfalls. If they’re not being self-audited periodically, then it leads to complacency, which leads to deficiencies. Inmates’ lives are at risk, even if they’re criminals. A lot of people have a hard time grasping that. But, when we take custody of a human, we’re responsible for that human,” he said.
Galvan said that the race had been a positive experience and that it was a great learning experience for his 11-year-old daughter, in particular. “It’s all been very heartwarming and I appreciate everybody’s support. It has been a wonderful experience, win or lose.”