Roberts County: A year in the most pro-Trump town in America

PHOTO: The small town of Miami has one stoplight, which flashes red on one side and flashes yellow on another. Part of the Texas panhandle, Miami is in Roberts County, the most "pro-Trump county in America." PlayAdam Rivera/ABC News
WATCH Roberts County: A Year in the Most Pro-Trump Town

Miami is a town in the Texas panhandle where everyone knows everyone at the grocery store and servers at the local diner know who likes what kind of pie with their chicken fried steak.

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The community's busy season is largely dictated by the needs of the cattle, tended to on sprawling ranches surrounding the town. With a population of about 600, there are more cows than people in Miami, pronounced locally as my-AM-uh.

But the results of the November 2016 election brought an influx of new human faces to Roberts County as news crews descended.

Roberts County, where Miami is the only incorporated community, was dubbed the “most pro-Trump county in America” after national voting records showed it had the highest percentage -- more than 95 percent -- of Trump voters.

Of the 550 who voted in the county, 524 went for President Donald Trump. Trying to name people who voted for Hillary Clinton turned into a local guessing game, and none of the suspected Clinton supporters whom ABC News contacted were willing to talk about their vote.

But a handful of Trump voters and local residents spoke with ABC News and agreed to be interviewed over the course of the first year of the Trump administration. Why? Because ABC News wanted to learn and observe: What issues mattered most to their lives, and how -- if at all -- their initial impressions of Trump evolved a year into his presidency.

PHOTO: Not much changed in the small town of Miami, Texas during 2017, the first year of President Donald Trumps administration. Miami is in Roberts County, the most pro-Trump county in America. Adam Rivera/ABC News
Not much changed in the small town of Miami, Texas during 2017, the first year of President Donald Trump's administration. Miami is in Roberts County, the most "pro-Trump county in America."

While some parts of America have been consumed with the Russia investigations or slammed Trump as a divisive figure sowing discord, residents of Roberts County take a different view. They are more than 1,500 miles from the White House, but it feels even farther to some.

The nearest nationally recognized city is probably Amarillo, which is just shy of an hour-and-a-half drive away. Miami’s town newspaper comes out once a week and dedicates large portions of the coverage to the Miami High School Warriors, the town school’s athletes. Those who live and work right in Roberts County are mostly connected to cattle - ranching, selling, showing -- and many others have office jobs or public sector jobs in the nearby city of Pampa, which is just over the county line.

As the new administration settles into Washington, the reality of a political shift has taken root among voters like those in Miami, Texas. And while Trump’s actions can unsettle some of his supporters, they all appeared united in their conviction that the alternative would have been worse.

Clashing with “core values”

Steve and Martha Porter are essentially local legends, having lived and worked in the area for decades. They were the first couple awarded the “sweetheart” prize at Miami’s annual National Cow Calling Championship and Steak Cook Off in the summer of 2017 and have personal connections to many in the community. Steve Porter taught generations of high school government and economics students and Martha Porter taught special education at a nearby prison.

While they have recently been living in the neighboring town of Pampa, they still maintain a presence in Miami due to the more than 1,000 acres of property they own in Roberts County, which includes a pecan farm and apple orchard.

Steve Porter was drawn to Trump for his character, citing taxes and immigration as equally important issues he wanted to see improved.

“Donald Trump showed a great strength,” Porter said in June. “A great powerful person for the American people first. First in immigration, first in jobs, first in everything. And I realized that we needed a president who believed America was great. Greater than all other countries.”

PHOTO: Steve Porter, like many in Roberts County, says his faith and core values guide much of his life. Roberts County in the Texas panhandle is the most pro-Trump county in America. Jason Kurtis/ABC News
Steve Porter, like many in Roberts County, says his faith and core values guide much of his life. Roberts County in the Texas panhandle is the most "pro-Trump county in America."

One person who Porter said didn’t fit that description was Hillary Clinton. Her unpopularity came up repeatedly in conversations with Roberts County voters over the course of the year, and the Porters made sure their distaste for Clinton was passed down in their household to their miniature Australian shepherd named Buddy, whom they taught to bark like mad whenever he heard the name “Hillary.”

Porter, like many in Roberts County, says his faith and core values guide much of his life. As much as he supports the president, Porter concedes, he occasionally disagrees with Trump's conduct.

“Many times, we find that our presidents have been men that have faults and failures. They've had sin about them. And they've made gross mistakes. And the one we have right now is no different from ones we've had before,” he said.

“He has made a number of mistakes and probably would be the first to admit that he said some things, done some things since he's been president that he wishes that he could change and take back,” Porter said in December, without mentioning specific examples of what he viewed as those “gross mistakes.”

When pressed on the fact that Trump so rarely apologizes, Porter likened him to someone else known for his strength.

“He probably is, in a way, like [actor] John Wayne. John Wayne said, ‘Never say you're sorry. It's a sign of weakness.’ Now, I don't agree with that, but that's the way many men are,” Porter said.

Taxes affect family legacies

Another voter who spoke to ABC News was cattle rancher Mitchell Locke, a fourth-generation county resident whose family helped settle the town in 1887.

He left Miami to go to college elsewhere, but he said he returned because he loves the simple, quiet life, where he spends his free time teaching himself how to play the “Game of Thrones” theme on his banjo. His photo, like many Miami High School alums, was on the wall in the school, and his relatives have pictures and mementos on display in the Roberts County Museum just blocks from his house.

PHOTO: Mitchell Locke says that the fate of his familys cattle ranch is dependent upon changes to the estate tax. Locke lives in Roberts County, Texas, the most pro-Trump county in America. Jason Kurtis/ABC News
Mitchell Locke says that the fate of his family's cattle ranch is dependent upon changes to the estate tax. Locke lives in Roberts County, Texas, the most "pro-Trump county in America."

When Locke, 36, first met with ABC News in February, just a month into the Trump administration, he didn’t hold back on his feelings about the new president, for whom he voted.

“I think he's a buffoon. I think he's a blowhard,” Locke said. “But I still could not vote for the left for tax reasons, for some of the economic reasons, and things like that … it was that simple.”

The biggest tax issue for the Locke family is the estate tax, which applies when someone dies and his or her estate is passed on to a relative or heir. The thousands of acres of land and roughly 1,000 cattle the Locke family owns, which is largely tended to by Locke and his father, David Locke, is the major source of the family’s income and they see it as their legacy.

The Lockes are part of a select group of people affected by the estate tax. In 2013, 0.18 percent of people who died that year were eligible to pay estate taxes, according to data released by the Tax Policy Center in 2017.

When it came to the 2016 presidential campaign, the candidates announced contrasting plans for how they would handle the estate tax, which many conservatives call the “death tax.” Hillary Clinton proposed raising the estate tax, in some cases reaching 65 percent, and Trump promised to eliminate it altogether.

That made Mitchell Locke’s choice crystal clear.

“You give me two choices, I'll make a choice. Sometimes you have to put blinders on to some of it and you have to take the lesser of two evils …. Neither candidate was good in my opinion. One was worse than the other,” he said.

His sister Erin, who lives three blocks away, holds similar beliefs, especially when it comes to the importance of Trump’s help on the new tax law. In addition to being affected by how her father’s estate will be divided upon his eventual death, she’s also concerned about her husband Chad Breeding, a rancher himself.

Chad Breeding, who serves as the Miami mayor when he isn’t busy on the ranch, stressed to ABC News it would be “great” to get rid of the estate tax.

PHOTO: Cattle rancher and town mayor, Chad Breeding, with his wife Erin and their twins, Lillian and Wyatt, live in Roberts County, Texas, the most pro-Trump county in America.Jason Kurtis/ABC News
Cattle rancher and town mayor, Chad Breeding, with his wife Erin and their twins, Lillian and Wyatt, live in Roberts County, Texas, the most "pro-Trump county in America."

Breeding discussed how “a lot of people don't really have a lot of wealth, as like dollar bills in their pocket,” in rural parts of the country like Roberts County. But “they have a lot of wealth built up in land, that they've inherited,” he said.

In the minds of Mitchell Locke and Chad Breeding, the hope for tax law change was the touchstone because, they say, issues such as Russian interference in the election, violence at a white nationalists rally in Virginia and the proposed travel ban don’t directly affect their lives. Things have been busy at their respective houses, as much of Mitchell and wife Ashlee’s year was consumed by their ultimately successful struggle to conceive a child, while Chad and Erin Breeding were getting used to life with their newborn twins.

While talking to ABC News in October 2017, Locke posed a hypothetical: He imagined that if Clinton had won, his family “would have had to sell our land to the point where it wasn't sustainable for two families,” losing what they had worked for generations to accumulate.

“Those DACA people, should they be concerned about us, in that scenario?” he said of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy affecting hundreds of thousands of people who entered the county as minors.

He added, “I have to try and take care of me and my own. I don't know if that was right, but that's kind of what it comes down to.”

PHOTO: Cattle rancher Mitchell Locke, pictured with his wife, Ashlee, voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but said that he was the lesser of two evils. Locke lives in Roberts County, Texas, the most pro-Trump county in America. Jason Kurtis/ABC News
Cattle rancher Mitchell Locke, pictured with his wife, Ashlee, voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but said that he was the lesser of two evils. Locke lives in Roberts County, Texas, the most "pro-Trump county in America."

Praying for a change of heart

One Miami resident who supports Trump but takes issue with a possible policy change is Sonia Lopez. She immigrated to Texas from Mexico to live with her then-boyfriend, now husband, and has been living in Miami for more than a decade. She is still going through the citizenship process, so she wasn’t able to vote in 2016. But her eldest son and husband, who are both U.S. citizens, voted for Trump.

Each time she met with ABC News, she stressed that “the only concern to me is if he separate[s] families.”

Trump painted himself as a hardliner on immigration during the campaign, with the plan to “build the wall” becoming one of the best-known campaign lines. He signed an executive order to deport undocumented immigrants during his first week in office, and went on to openly debate what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

He also ended special protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador and Haiti, with other countries expected to come.

“How do you expect to have a good country if you are divided in the foundations of the family?” Lopez told ABC News in June.

PHOTO: Sonia Lopez lives in Roberts County, Texas, after emigrating to the U.S. from Mexico more than a decade ago. Sonia Lopez says that she regularly prays for President Donald Trump. Roberts County is the most pro-Trump county in America. Jason Kurtis/ABC News
Sonia Lopez lives in Roberts County, Texas, after emigrating to the U.S. from Mexico more than a decade ago. Sonia Lopez says that she regularly prays for President Donald Trump. Roberts County is the most "pro-Trump county in America."

Lopez stands out in Miami, not because of her loud cheers at the football games or her infectious smile, but because of the little diversity in Roberts County. According to the 2010 Census, 93.5 percent of the county is white, and only 74 people identify as Hispanic or Latino. Hers is one of three Mexican-American families who live in Miami, Lopez said.

Lopez, 48, told ABC News she is often asked whether she is in the country legally. A man once asked whether she swam through “the river” to get across the border, Lopez said.

“I say, ‘You know what, you have the privilege to be born here … I didn't. God didn't ask me … I'm the same, like you. I want something better for my kids. I want good education. I want they have a good future.” she said.

Like Porter and many others in the community, Lopez is Christian, telling ABC News that she regularly prays for Trump.

“I'm still praying every morning. Every morning, every night, every time that I remember, I just say, 'God, please, go in his heart, in all the Congress heart.’ …. Why they don't do something good for the people that they don't have papers?” Lopez said in December.

Looking forward with a lack of enthusiasm

The breakneck pace of news and political dramas that have consumed many parts of the country in the first year of the Trump administration didn’t seem to make it to Roberts County.

That was particularly true of the Russia investigations, where some arrests and indictments were issued for members of the Trump campaign. All the people ABC News met in Roberts County dismissed the issue.

“In all reality, it probably will never affect me,” Miami Mayor Chad Breeding said in December, saying that would even be true if Trump faces legal questions about any alleged involvement.

“So, he gets indicted, he goes to jail, there's another president. That's not going to affect poor little Chad down here,” he said.

While a number of the president’s campaign promises failed to come to fruition during the first year, his major legislative win came in the form of a tax bill, which included changes to the estate tax.

PHOTO: Cattle play a major role in the economy of Roberts County. Jason Kurtis/ABC News
Cattle play a major role in the economy of Roberts County.

Since the tax bill became law in late December, the amount of assets that can be passed on tax-free has been doubled to cover roughly $11 million passed on by an individual. While certainly a boost, it is a far cry from eliminating the estate tax altogether, especially because that measure expires in 2025.

The expiration date means that if there are no deaths in the family in the next seven years, the next president could hold the financial fate of these Texas ranches in his or her hands.

But that doesn’t seem to bother rancher Mitchell Locke.

“I got other things out of it,” he said. “I got a Supreme Court candidate I like [now Justice Neil Gorsuch], reductions in regulations and things like that. And things haven't gotten worse for us. And they would have.”

While some, like Mayor Breeding, couldn’t fathom voting for anyone but a Republican, fellow rancher Locke says his allegiance to Trump isn’t guaranteed in 2020.

“I'm not married to the guy. I'm not locked into him like, ‘He's my guy.’ He never was,” Locke said. “I'm just, like I said, I had a set of scales and I was putting good, bad, good, bad and the good slightly outweighed the bad.”

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