Rick Perry's Political Grandstanding Misrepresents Definition of “Spillover Violence”

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On Tuesday, Rick Perry launched the “Texas Spillover Violence Contingency Plan.” From the press release issued from his Governor's office, titled, “Gov. Perry Orders Activation of First Phase Of Texas Spillover Violence Contingency Plan” we hear the following argument from Perry:

“With the growing threat of violence in Mexico spilling over the border, we have taken important measures to increase the law enforcement presence along the Texas border and have placed additional resources on standby to combat any potential situation,” Gov. Perry said. “It is imperative that the federal government immediately provide additional resources to prevent spillover violence, but with the safety of Texans on the line, we can’t afford to wait.”

Yet Perry's own spokesperson, just two days later, said spillover violence was not the reason for the plan being launched. From Friday's story in the McAllen Monitor, “What is 'spillover?' It depends on whom you ask.”:

[Perry spokeswoman Katherine] Cessinger said the decision to activate the plan had nothing to do with recent events of spillover on Texas soil, although there have not recently been any in the state, she said.

Which is it, Governor Perry — are you acting because of spillover violence, or aren't you?

Senator John Cornyn was caught grandstanding earlier this week as well. At first, Cornyn joined with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to ask President Obama to address the issue. It was even on the front of his Senate home page (view image here). From the opening words of his press release (“Texas Senators Hutchison, Cornyn Request Action From President Obama On Escalating Violence In Mexico“), Cornyn begins the conversation talking about spillover violence:

“The spillover violence in Texas is real and it is escalating.  Our border patrol agents and local law enforcement are more regularly engaged with gunmen associated with drug cartels, but our resources and personnel are limited…

A story from the McAllen Monitor earlier this week, titled, ““Senators call for openness in contingency  plans for violence along U.S.-Mexico border” showed Cornyn caught committing the same political grandstanding as Perry:

[Cornyn] contradicted himself, however, in a conference call with reporters later in the day in which he said, “As far as the Texas border is concerned, we have not had spillover violence, per se.”

Defining Spillover Violence

How do we define spillover violence? Friday's story in the McAllen Monitor asked “What is 'spillover?' It depends on whom you ask.” From their story:

Federal authorities define spillover violence as “deliberate, planned attacks by the cartels on U.S. assets, including civilian, military or law enforcement officials, innocent U.S. citizens or physical institutions, such as government buildings, consulates or businesses. This definition does not include trafficker on trafficker violence, whether perpetuated in Mexico or the U.S.”

That definition was recommended by the Southwest Border Task Force and adopted by the Department of Homeland Security last year.

That would rule out most instances of violence seen in South Texas, since the assailants and victims are usually involved in drugs or human smuggling, said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who also serves as vice chair of the Southwest Border Task Force.

Most drug-related crime in South Texas would be classified as “border violence,” defined by the task force as any act of violence motivated by drugs, human smuggling or money that takes place within 25 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border — and can be linked to crime across the border.

On Tuesday — the same day Perry unveiled his “Texas Spillover Violence Contingency Plan” — federal officials stated that while the current crimes on both sides of the border are serious and deserve their utmost attention, they would not classify any of the violence as “spillover.” From the March 16, 2010 McAllen Monitor story, “After McAllen kidnapping, authorities question spillover threat“:

Law enforcement officials said the cartel-related incident does not demonstrate an example of “spillover” violence — often described by the national media as cartel-related violence on U.S. soil, but described by local authorities as an active incident of violence literally spilling north of the Rio Grande from Mexico.

Rather, it appears the kidnapping-turned-shooting was another in a long line of violent incidents involving victims and criminals with ties to drug trafficking — not the general public, authorities said.

Both federal and local law enforcement officials refuse to describe the current violence along the border as “spillover violence.” The term can be harmful to local regions, because it creates an overly exaggerated sense of panic for a region already plagued by rising crime rates — something else Rick Perry has deliberately lied about in recent weeks, months, and years. (Read: “PolitiFact: Rick Perry's “Pants on Fire” Lie About Border Crime Rates”).

John Johnson, who leads the FBI’s office in McAllen, stressed that regular citizens should not be afraid:

“Those are the exceptions,” Johnson said. “If you’re a law-abiding citizen in McAllen, Texas, I think that the probability that you’re going to be picked up by the cartel in a kidnapping situation are very, very low.”

El Paso Mayor John Cook echoed Johnson's sentiment about citizen safety in the El Paso Times piece, “Gov. Rick Perry sends helicopters to border in slap at US“:

Cook would not comment on whether he believed that Perry's plan would be effective, saying he did not want to get involved in politics or give additional information to cartels. But, he said, the average El Paso resident is not in any danger of spillover violence.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who is the vice chair of the Southwest Border Task Force, believes Perry's actions are politically motivated. From the same excellent Monitor piece,  “What is 'spillover?' It depends on whom you ask“:

Treviño has said he believes the spillover plan may be politically motivated, given Perry’s run for re-election in November — a notion the governor’s office denies.

“I am trying to diffuse, I am trying to mitigate, the fear of crime that the governor has created,” the sheriff said. “Give us all the security we can get. But don’t tell (the public) about something that is not happening. Don’t instill the fear of crime into them.”

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About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.


  1. Agreed

    lets focus on the definition of spill over violence NOT how much money I made while Mayor from outside “interests”.  Trust me.  Really

    • What will they come up with to counter Metro?
      Added to the millions of dollars Bill White doesn't want to talk about there is the growing mess of Metro and Bill White's former controller, the guardian of the public trust, and the public accounts, removing HIS board and replacing it with HER board and blaming HIM, indirectly of course, for the mess. Never mind she never complained while HE was mayor. Just after SHE became mayor.

      I guess he should have openly endorsed her from day one.

      As for the border violence, it is there. And it is here. The FBI warned everyone years ago but everyone loved their cheap labor and everyone loved their potential new voters.

      It wasn't just Ronald Reagan but Barbara Jordan who warned everyone years ago. Easy to slam Ronald Reagan. Not so easy to slam Barbara Jordan. The other states will probably see headless bodies lying by the roads soon. Texas probably will not. And that is something Bill White and his supporters need to tread cautiously on. Some of the hard-working decent immigrants fleeing from the crime as well as the poverty of Mexico really are the ones the hard-working decent immigrants actually were fleeing from. And found they followed them.

      Even Barbara Radnofsky spoke out about the issue. Apparently no one was paying attention.

      We have a law. It isn't enforced. We don't need a new law. We need the law we have enforced. We don't need to be watching the headless bodies being picked up on our city streets. Bill White blamed the feds while mayor. Said it was their problem. Their responsibility. But is blaming Perry for demanding the feds finally do something?

      But everyone must vote for Bill White. No matter what. He's the Democrat.

      That didn't work in 2006. Won't work in 2010.  

  2. huh?
    is the crazy convention in town? what these two are talking about, i'll never know.

    in case you missed it, this is a national news story and the situation in mexico is causing a huge commotion all the way to the potomac.

    it has nothing to do with taxes. i don't even understand that.

    i don't know if either of you live in a border community or frequent one, but when the government has a double-secret probation “plan” for your community…you kinda want some input.

    the “border” is not the same in El Paso as it is in Eagle Pass or Rio Grande City.  there cannot be a universal, blanket approach.

    and i'm really not understanding why you see a political motivation on “our” side, but not on perry's side.  there is nothing new going on along the border.  things are as they have been for quite some time.  if the timing of the double-secret “plan” roll-out doesn't raise your eyebrows, you are either completely ignorant or so biased that you cannot be intellectually honest.

    • Oh, excuse me…
      Perry of course waited until the campaign really started shifting into high gear before he called on Washington to address the problem. Of course he's playing politics with it. He's a Republican. He has to play it carefully. But then so does Bill White. He's a Democrat. Republicans have to appease the right-wing-shoot-the-immigrants looneys. Democrats have to appease the make-them-legal-and-register-them-to-vote looneys. Both have to appease the employers who just like the cheap labor. The latter of course of upmost importance since they are the ones who write those nice big checks to the parties.

      The real issues are the issues about ethics. And Bill White isn't doing too well with those. Thanks in part to the Houston Chronicle. Which has quite a few wondering what is going on at the Houston Chronicle. Of course, again, some are looking at whose pocket a large number of reporters and editorial staff is in. And can pretty much figure out that a woman scorned is nothing compared to a mayor scorned.

      Maybe BOR can revive the “gay governor” rumor it started years ago – worked wonders for Kay Bailey Hutchison.  

      • Oh, and politics aside…
        I of course should add that politics aside, it is a problem. That should have been addressed a long time ago. Tens of thousands of gang members from Central America and Mexico. Most if not all tied into the drug cartels.  And it is only a matter of time before they decide that “Su Casa is Mi Casa” and start shooting our police officers down in the streets when the police officers start interfering in their business.  Perry at least has addressed it. White has not. He needs the Hispanic vote. And thinks all Hispanics support unchecked illegal immigration. All Hispanics do not. Particularly those from Mexico who have seen what has happened in Mexico and see it happening here.

          • Where the focus should be…
            The focus should be on the legislative races but as in 2006 we will see the focus on the governor's race. I'm just waiting to be told again that the Democratic candidate “works well with Republicans.”

            If we had a Democratic legislature, less some of the current crop of Democrats, it wouldn't matter who was governor. But alas, the governor controls the “goody box” and that is what the boys in the backroom really want.

            Bill White made millions while mayor while secretly serving on boards and investing in partnerships. No wonder he wants to be governor. And no wonder so many want him to be.

            The one thing you cannot even claim is that Rick Perry has gotten rich off being governor.

            Bottom line is we appear to have a king which is not a good thing regardless of how ethical or unethical the king mahy be. We need a House of Commons to serve the people instead of a House of Lords to serve the king and his party.

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