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So Just How Maverick Is the Mexican Elections Indie Winner ‘El Bronco’?

Turns out "El Bronco" spent thirty years in Mexico's ruling party. But even so, his landslide victory in Nuevo Leon marks a turning point — away from Mexico's political status quo.

by David Agren
Jun 9 2015, 11:40pm

Photo via EPA

The man known as "El Bronco" outlined his first order of business after winning the June 7 gubernatorial election in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.

"We're going to fumigate the governor's office," Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez told cheering supporters on Sunday night.

His fans screamed back, "No more rats!" according to an account in the newspaper El Norte — the local only publication that covered Rodriguez from the start of his improbable campaign.

The victory speech was vintage Rodriguez, a man whose straight-talking style, salty language, and effective use of social media vaulted him from improbable upstart to Mexico's first governor elected as an independent.

Even more improbably, "El Bronco" won despite of a climate decidedly rigged against independents. Candidates not affiliated to a registered political party were only allowed to run for the first time in 2015 in Mexico, and in Nuevo Leon, unfriendly but highly influential Monterrey-area TV stations ignored "El Bronco" throughout most of the campaign — then began covering him critically as election day neared.

Rodriguez won nearly half the vote in Nuevo Leon anyway.

It was an astonishing feat in the wealthiest state in Mexico (after the Federal District), which is famed for its industrial fortunes but now plagued by political corruption and, in past years, a wave of violence related to organized crime.

Related: Mexico Elections Update: 'El Bronco' Rides Wave of Discontent to Big Win in Nuevo Leon

Election night coverage of El Bronco's victory speech on June 7.

Analysts said Rodriguez tapped a deep current of voter discontent with the mainstream political parties, which Rodriguez railed against as unaccountable and more interested in colluding to cover up cases of corruption than addressing citizen concerns.

"This discourse of 'Go fuck yourself' that everyone has wanted to tell their public officials and the media, Jaime Rodriguez has done it," said Juan Manuel Ramos, director of the website RedesQuintoPoder, said in an interview.


First open election

Mexico introduced independent candidacies as part of a political reform laws approved in 2014. But proponents of the change almost immediately said it was incomplete and clumsily implemented, by failing to outline rules for financing campaigns for independents, or on how indie candidates could access the radio and TV airwaves, which are only allowed to registered parties.

Rodriguez beat the media blackout by generating buzz on social media. He travels tethered to a pair of smartphones and says he spends two hours every morning responding to WhatsApp messages from citizens.

'El Bronco' belonged to the PRI for 30 years, and wanted to run with them in Nuevo Leon.

Campaign stops were announced last minute via Facebook. One event in Monterrey's scruffy Solidaridad neighborhood attracted an estimated 2,000 residents in a matter of hours.

"We have to take away power from these political parties," one supporter, Jesus Salas, a former state police officer, told VICE News. "They don't do anything. They promise everything, then don't deliver."

A recent report on corruption from the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness think-tank found 91 percent of Mexicans perceive political parties as corrupt — highest of any institution in the country. The country's 10 registered political parties split more than $400 million in annual public subsidies — in a country where half the population lives at or below the poverty line.

At campaign events, Rodriguez promised to send the parties on a "six-year vacation so they can get their act together."

Critics, however, point to his own history of more than 30 years in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which he unseated in Nuevo Leon in Sunday's vote.

"El Bronco" faced a few pointed attacks from rivals for his rather un-independent back-story. "Jaime, when I was three-years-old you were already participating in the PRI," rival PRI candidate Ivonne Alvarez said in one debate.

Related: Mexican Voters Say 'None of Them Can Make a Real Change' As Some Burn Ballots

"Bronco is not going to change much," independent political analyst Fernando Dworak told VICE News. "He has little apart from his own regal figure and the fact that he's a great communicator. It's unlikely that he'll be a good governor."

Scandals surrounding "El Bronco" also surfaced, such as questions about conflicting details given on his daughter being kidnapped, and allegations of abuse by an ex-wife.

'It becomes irrelevant if Bronco is an independent or not independent.'

But in the end, the media attacks hardly hurt Rodriguez. Neither did details of his PRI past or questions about his actual independence.

"It becomes irrelevant if Bronco is an independent or not independent. To people he's an alternative," said Mauricio Sada, a former National Action Party leader in the Nuevo Leon legislature.

Helping even more, Sada told VICE News, "he's a man of the people. […] He looks more like what the common person in Nuevo Leon looks like."

Rodriguez, 58, was born on a ranch without electricity, the fourth of 10 children. He went on to raise horses and grow alfalfa and get involved in politics with the PRI.

His penchant for campaigning in cowboy boots and his colorful language draws comparisons to the 2000 campaign of Vicente Fox, who ousted the PRI from seven decades of power in the presidency. Fox rode high hopes early in his administration but went on to lead an overall disappointing administration.

Rodriguez cuts any comparisons short, saying curtly: "Vicente Fox bought a ranch. I was born on a ranch."

Related: Get Over It, Ex Mexican President Tells Parents of Missing Students on US Caravan

(Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik/AP)

Rodriguez won election first as mayor of Garcia, a Monterrey-area municipality, in 2009, just as violence in the region surged. Rodriguez says he took on the ruthless Zetas cartel by creating an elite police squad, and urging citizens to contact him personally with tips on the actions of halcones, cartel street spies who monitor the movements of police and soldiers.

He survived two assassination attempts. A young daughter was kidnapped, and a son was killed in an abduction — a motive, Rodriguez says, for his attempts at overhauling the country.

Rodriguez originally tried to run with the PRI, but the party chose another candidate. His independent run started out slowly; an aide said only three media outlets covered the opening event. But the campaign soon gained ground, in spite of having permission to run only 38 radio and TV ads in comparison to more than 2,300 spots aired for the PRI and PAN.

In late May, a former interim governor, Fernando Elizondo, bowed out of the race for Nuevo Leon governor with a smaller party and endorsed "El Bronco," an important move for bringing in business leaders and support from Nuevo Leon's polite society.

Once in office, Rodriguez will confront a legislature controlled by politicians from the traditional party benches, though he's said he sees no need to approve new laws. "We need to apply the laws that we have," Rodriguez said.

He also promised to hire "the best" for his administration and asked Nuevo Leon residents to send in their resumes. He makes an exception, though: no one from Harvard or the like.

"I'm not going to hire any sonsos" — naive fools — "because there are the ones that have destroyed the country," Rodriguez told reporters, striking a populist tone. "They don't have the street smarts to solve our problems."

Related: Mexico Is Having Its Most Depressing Election in Recent History

Follow David Agren on Twitter @el_reportero.