The midterm election is two months away but southwest Texas is gearing up for a special election first. Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego are contending for State Senate District 19, a seat former State Sen. Carlos Uresti vacated after he received a 12-year prison sentence in June 2018.
Flores, a former Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden, recently visited the Alamo City Republican Women’s monthly fundraising luncheon in San Antonio.
The group annually raises about $40,000 for political candidates, including Flores. He urged a crowd of about 150 people to help him turn red a district that has been blue for decades.
“And I can’t stress how important it is for us to get the vote out. If you don’t live in the senate district, then contact those that do and have them show up at the polls,” he said.
Flores, 58, faced Uresti in 2016 but lost with 40 percent of the vote. Despite that experience, he still feels he's new to politics.
Bexar County voter Lille Gough likes that about Flores. She says he’s relatable.
“He’s not a politician. He’s just a regular next door neighbor type of guy — that’s who we need. He’s what Trump went for. He’s exactly like Trump — going out to the people who have been forgotten,” she said.
That's the message Flores shares with the voters. He says his biggest goal is property tax reform.
“It’s not that we don’t want to pay our fair share,” he said, “It’s just, it’s gotten to the point it's not fair and equitable any more. The legislature created it and the legislature can un-create it. That’s the beauty of the process.”
The Senate District 19 is one of the largest in the state, stretching from southern San Antonio into West Texas and down to the border. It’s 66 percent Hispanic.
Flores came out the frontrunner in the initial special election this July. Out of eight candidates, he gained 34 percent of the vote. Democrat Pete Gallego finished with 29 percent. Another Democrat — State Rep. Roland Gutierrez — received 24 percent.
South of San Antonio, the Atascosa County Democratic Party met at the Poteet Strawberry Festival grounds. They carved a traditional Texas brisket. Nearby, potato salad was on the table. About a dozen people gathered to listen to Gallego.
Atascosa County is mostly rural. In July, about two thirds of voters chose a Republican candidate in this race. Gallego hopes more voters here will lead to another Democratic victory.
“And if we can get people to turn out, if we can get people to start participating, we know, we know, that counties like Atascosa are not truly red counties,” he said.
Before politics, Gallego, 56, was a felony prosecutor for three counties in West Texas. He has about 24 years of legislative experience — 22 in the Texas House and two in Congress. Both of those seats partially overlap with Senate District 19.
“These are people that I’ve known for generations. I’ve been to weddings and baptisms. I can pick any Friday night football game in a lot of these counties, and I’m going to know half the crowd,” Gallego said.
One of Gallego’s priorities is public education. He says there needs to be more funding for public schools, and he disagrees with the priorities of the last legislative session, which included the sanctuary cities law and bathroom bill.
“No offense but for generations we’ve been able to figure out which bathroom to use on our own,” he added.
The district has been a stronghold for Democrats in the Texas Senate. Democrats are the minority party in the Texas Senate, where they only have 10 out of 31 seats.
Whoever wins the seat will escape the stress of the November election and not have to run again until 2020.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules