The Texas Tribune, 7/01/2012

With a mix of trepidation and optimism, Texas lawmakers are closely watching Mexico’s election on Sunday. The expected outcome would return the Institutional Revolutionary Party to power.

Polls show that Enrique Peña Nieto, a PRI member and former governor of the state of Mexico, is in line to become the country’s next president. That would swing power back to the center-left party after 12 years of rule by the more moderate National Action Party, whose legacy has been stained by six years of grueling war against drug traffickers.

But Texas lawmakers are concerned that the PRI would revive its tainted past, which included reports of corruption and deal-making with criminal elements.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who has met several times with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, said he was skeptical about how the country’s next leader will move forward.

“In the backdrop of all this is the PRI itself and their history,” McCaul said. “Traditionally, the PRI has been the party that has played nice with the cartels.”

In an overview of the race, Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said that the question on most people’s minds was whether a victory by Peña Nieto could overcome his party’s tainted legacy and “usher in a new era with a reformed PRI capable of tackling the issues of corruption and inefficient government, security and violence, and economic under-performance that have vexed other parties as well.”

The other candidates include Josefina Vázquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party; Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist progressive alliance, which includes the Party of the Democratic Revolution and the Labor Party; and Gabriel Quadri of the New Alliance Party.

The government’s war on traffickers has resulted in more than 55,000 deaths. It has also prompted Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Texas to call Calderón a hero for his efforts to reduce violence in the country.

But McCaul, a member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, said he was fearful that strategy would change in December, when Peña Nieto, if elected, would be sworn in. McCaul pointed to the PRI not following Calderón’s strategy, which has included transitioning to a larger federal police force and staging large-scale military deployments in crime-afflicted areas like Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, and Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo. The Texas cities are Mexico’s No. 1 and No. 2 trade destinations, respectively.