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Candidate Forum: Steve Allison, Celina Montoya Face Off Again In Race To Represent Texas House District 121

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GOP incumbent state Rep. Steve Allison is again facing a challenge from Democrat Celina Montoya for a seat in the Texas House representing the reliably red District 121, which includes northeast San Antonio, Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and Olmos Park.

Allison is a business attorney and has described himself a "strong conservative." He served on the Alamo Heights School Board for 12 years and spent three terms as its president. He was also a vice chair on the board for VIA Metropolitan Transit. He ran unopposed in the March Republican primary.

Montoya is a former Texas Public Radio journalist and started the educational nonprofit Literacy San Antonio. She served as chair of the San Antonio Area Foundation Women and Girl's Development Fund and now handles community and government relations at her family-run Alamo Fireworks. She won her primary outright with 69% of the vote.

When the two faced off for the seat in 2018, Montoya was the first Democrat to run for District 121 in 18 years and lost by 8.4%. In 2020 she's armed with an array of Democratic endorsements, including Barack Obama. A win for her could help flip the Texas House.

The seat was previously occupied for 14 years by moderate Texas Speaker and San Antonio Representative Joe Straus. Allison's own moderate political approach in his first term may be comforting enough for voters weary of political drama and controversy. He has been endorsed by the San Antonio Express-News.

Both candidates emphasized the importance of making voting and voter registration accessible.

“The onus of having to be a volunteer deputy registrar to register voters like I've done myself, you know, is already an encumbrance. Many states have automatic registration. Many states allow for same day registration, they also allow for registration online,” Motoya said.

Allison agreed, saying voting accessibility is a right and should not be a partisan issue.

“Whether we use technology, whether we use in person voting, or combination, as long as we just make it fair. And I'm not sure that we've approached it with that primary purpose in mind. It's more to gain a partisan advantage, or an upper hand and that's the wrong approach,” Allison said.

In terms of the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, Allison said he didn’t think any state was entirely satisfied with their government’s approach.

“I think hindsight or second-guessing is always perfect,” Allison said. “There's no playbook for this. It caught everyone by surprise. put it mildly. And we're learning from it. And hopefully we have that we need better preparation for the future.”

Montoya said she believed there was an opportunity for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to hear from different representatives about how the crisis was impacting their communities individually.

“Texas is a big, diverse state. And we can't have you know, blanket, you know, policies or lack thereof, in order to see us through something as serious and as deadly as this,” Montoya said.

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*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, October 21.

Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon