She has known Greg Abbott, the recently re-elected Republican governor for a third term in Texas, for more than a decade. She worked with him during his time at the State Attorney General and became his right-hand woman years later in the governorship. Abbott appointed her first to the Ministry of Labor and then to the most important position in his administration, Secretary of State. However, Ruth Ruggero Hughs is an Argentine lawyer with a technical profile who prefers not to talk much about politics and avoids public exposure as much as possible.
History and politics led this Latino woman born in RÃo Tercero, CÃ³rdoba, to emigrate with her family at a very young age and grow up in the United States without losing the Spanish language, which she speaks perfectly. Today, back in the private sector, Hughs lives in Austin and practices her profession a few blocks from the Capitol where Abbott rules, the record governor who comes from crushing Democrat Beto O'Rourke in last week's elections, and has an iron policy on the border with Mexico. Although her relationship with Abbott and his associates remains fluid, Hughs seems determined to stay out of politics. Among his customers, there are large companies that have assets in Texas and consider it one of the best states to invest in.
How did your relationship with the Republicans in Texas begin?
In 2004 I lived in New York and moved back to Texas because my family lived here. Before 2001, I though I could get on a plane and see my relatives, but when the Twin Towers fell, I realized that I was living far away from my family. My three brothers and my parents were in Texas. So I went back and got what I thought was going to be a temp job at the Attorney General's office. I thought it was going to be temporary because law studies pay more in private practice than in the public sphere.
What was your role?
The office represents all legal matters for the entire State of Texas and I spent a lot of time on airplanes, going to every corner of the State where there was a trial, or I was in court. I represented state agencies, mostly in Federal Court. I had very interesting, important cases and that gave me recognition as a lawyer. Later, I met my husband, I had children and I did not want to fly so much. So, when I was leaving the office I was offered to be part of the Governor's cabinet and help oversee the trial divisions.
How did they keep you?
When my daughter was born I did not know that my life was going to change. I had an argument facing the Fifth Circuit Court, from there you go to the Supreme Court of the United States. She was three months old but I did not want to lose that argument and I took her with me. Then I had a trial in East Texas, which was a week-long federal trial, and I also took her. When I returned, I met a person who was in charge of the civil divisions and was very close to the governor. He was surprised to see me with my baby, and he discussed it with the governor. They decided to find a way for me to continue being part of the team.
But you were with Abbott when he was Solicitor, before he was elected governor.
Yes, as a lawyer I was a commissioner in a division first and then I was part of his cabinet. But in 2010 I retired from the position to be more with my family and work with my husband. I was out of the government for five years, I took a risk without knowing how it was going to turn out. When Abbott was elected governor, they called me to ask me if I would be a civil servant again. First I went as a commissioner representing the employees in the Ministry of Labor and later as Minister of Labor, which was a 6 years position. Then, in 2019, the governor asked me to take over as Secretary of State, because at that time he needed someone he trusted for that position.
Until you quit last year...
It is not that I quit, that position is not a long-term position. The goal was 2020 presidential election. During that period there were five planned elections, and a pandemic nobody expected. I was in office for almost two years and I stayed because the government was trying to pass laws so people would be more confident in the electoral system. I did not leave before because I did not want there to be confusion and to leave the impression that I disagreed with what was being done in that regard. When I was able to resign, some claimed that I had left dissatisfied, but that was not the case. I really feel very proud to have been a public servant, I did what I have set out to do and now I am here with a firm that has deep roots.
Abbott aplastÃ³ a Beto y ya es el gobernador mÃ¡s poderoso de la historia de Texas
What is it like working with a Republican like Abbott?
He has charm! He is a person who inspires a lot, he has been through a lot in his life and that is why I think he does not take anything for granted. He expects a lot from himself and aims to treat his people very well. He wants to be a public servant and expects that from people he surrounds himself with and who work for him. The things he does when cameras are not there show me what kind of person he is. When I was Minister of Labor, a veteran approached him and told him about a program they were running in another state. So, he said "Let's see what they are doing in another state and make sure that we are going to do it better." He always said the same thing, in all cases, because it was necessary to see how to apply certain programs to Texas. In the East, the West, the South and the North they have other needs and cultures and we have a State that has large cities, but it must also be understood that 90% is rural.
You toured the entire state. How would you describe that contrast between the big cities and the rural communities in Texas?
They seem to be two different countries. We are one of the few states that always has and show the American flag and the Texas flag. Maybe because we had our own country, but all that pioneering spirit is something that every Texan has in some way and something that culture generates. Undoubtedly, in rural areas they are much more traditional, very religious, they strongly believe in their independence in relation to not being regulated in the use of guns by the government, they prefer to make their own lives and they do not like social programs so much.
How is the support of Latinos for Abbott in Texas?
I think that it is increasing, according to what the census indicates. It should be noticed that that it is not that they have moved here. Many were already here: Texas was part of Mexico. It is part of the essence, of how we are made up. It is important to recognize that they have always been and continue be. Latinos themselves are a big part of Texas history. I have always felt very supported by the governor and my Spanish has been important for me, with the pandemic we had supply problems and we had to work a lot with Mexico. There I found out that reaching an understanding helped when you could speak the language of the people of the other party.
What about Austin? How has it transformed in recent years? Why do companies settle here?
During the pandemic, when other states like California and New York shut down completely and kids couldn't go to school, families and business suffered greatly. Here we sought to follow all the health protocols, but not to close our entire economy, and that was highly recognized. Many California companies moved to Texas, Hewlett Packard moved to Houston, Tesla came to Austin, Toyota has its Latin American headquarter in the city of Plano since before the pandemic, Samsung, which has been in Austin for many years, has just made a very large investment for semiconductors. They choose Texas, but in particular Austin, because we have been developing a technology city, we are a very green city, we continue to be in harmony with the river that is near us, we have the Capitol and many advantages in Austin.
What does the United States look like from Texas? How does it feel from a border state that is closer to Mexico than Washington?
Texas is recognized as having the power of the country. If it were a country, it would be the ninth largest economy in the world. We have first-class universities, first-class hospitals, and a weather that makes people want to come. We have the lowest taxes and we try to regulate as little as possible. We try to create an environment that is truly supportive of business, and that is recognized. Other countries that previously considered California or New York are seeing that they have many opportunities here. We have ports and airports, but the border we have and the natural resources make us a very strong State.
As Secretary of State, you had connections with consulates from 90 countries.
Yes, they are the representatives of the 90 countries that are here in Texas.
Why have Republicans won in Texas for almost 30 years?
Policy is a word that I still do not know how to translate. They handle things in a conservative way and by focusing on the things that really matter to people.
"No importa que la poblaciÃ³n latina sea la que mas crezca, si no van a votar"
You toured South Texas, what did you find when you went as an official in charge?
They appreciated that I spoke Spanish and was Hispanic, especially women, in a way that I found interesting, more like Latin America perhaps. Each region of Texas is very special and unique. When you know one, you know one. It is not all the same. They always welcome me very well, they are Hispanics, Latino people, something similar to what we would be used to. Religious, workers and I think that sometimes people do not understand that the debate about immigration is not against the people who emigrate, but about doing it legally and following it as many who are already living in Texas.
You say that is why Abbott has support from Latinos despite his harsh policy on the border.
Of course, and Latinos voted for Trump a lot because they did not feel supported by the security forces and the Democrats on the border.
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