He was at the time a 20-something Brownsville lawyer seeking to become Cameron County’s district attorney.
A turn of events in the fall of 1988, including the sudden death of the county judge, propelled Tony Garza into a different direction. Garza would shift over to running for county judge as a Republican. He appeared to be a longshot in a Democratic-leaning region.
What appeared to be improbable then became a shocking upset more than 20 years ago. Tony Garza – young and charismatic – won the election to become the Cameron County judge.
“It was a crazy night,” said Garza, thinking back to that time. “That was my first elected position and I was the first Republican (elected) to countywide office in South Texas.”
It would be the first step in a three decade-long career in public service. Garza would go on to serve as the secretary of state of Texas and later Texas Railroad Commissioner. In 2001, President George W. Bush would name Garza as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. It would be a post he would hold during the eight years of the Bush presidency.
The honors for Garza have been numerous over the years. An honor granted in November by the University of Texas holds a special distinction for Garza. It’s not only an award from an alma mater, but one coming from an academic setting tied to the business world.
“This one really surprised me,” said Garza, who last month was inducted into the UT McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame. “I’ve spent most of my life in the public sector and to be recognized by the McCombs School is a real honor.”
Garza has always touted his Rio Grande Valley roots as a graduate from Brownsville’s St. Joseph Academy. Those hometown roots are what Garza sees as integral to his successes.
“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s who you are,” said Garza, who today serves as counsel to White & Case in Mexico City.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, a fellow Valley native and UT graduate, was a mentor and influence on Garza. He hopes local youths today can find inspiration in his example.
“Earlier this year, I was part of the UT sendoff in both Hidalgo and Cameron counties for the Longhorn class of 2023,” Garza said. “Great kids with amazing futures. So yes, I do hope people follow in my path to UT, and then blaze their own trials.”
Garza is looking forward to seeing the presence of the UT System grow as its investments increase in the region through the UT-RGV campuses in Edinburg and Brownsville and the School of Medicine in Harlingen.
“There’s no more basic tool in the American and global marketplace than an education,” he said. “The more we make opportunities for higher education accessible, affordable and relevant in the Valley, the more we’ll prosper as a region.”