Political newcomer Mary Edna Gonzalez will be the first woman to represent El Paso's Lower Valley in the Texas House. Gonzalez, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, on Tuesday won a three-person Democratic primary race to fill the House District 75 seat that is being vacated by state Rep. Inocente "Chente" Quintanilla.
She will join Democratic state Rep. Marisa Marquez, who handily won her re-election bid against Ricardo Aaron Barraza, and four other members of El Paso's state delegation in Austin. Neither woman faces a Republican opponent in the November general election.
"We're ready to start working," Gonzalez said. "There is so much I have to get done, and we are ready to get to work."
The 28-year-old faced
former Socorro school board trustee Hector Enriquez and former El Paso Community College board member Antonio "Tony" San Roman in her run for the seat that Quintanilla held for 10 years before deciding against a re-election bid to seek a spot on County Commissioners Court.
Quintanilla's decision to vacate his seat meant El Paso's state House delegation would lose another senior lawmaker.
Democratic state Rep. Joe Pickett, who was first elected in 1994, is the longest-serving member of the delegation. Marquez, who beat longtime incumbent Paul Moreno in 2008, is the second-most senior member among El Paso's state lawmakers.
State Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, is headed for her second term in office after defeating former state Rep.
Norma Chavez two years ago. She ran unopposed in the Demo cratic primary and did not draw a challenger in the general election.
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, and state Rep. Dee Margo, a Republican, have challengers in the general election this November.
Margo will face former Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody for the third time.
Rodriguez faces Republican Dan Chavez in the general election in November. Rodriguez beat Chavez handily two years ago.
"All things being equal, no region wants to lose seniority in the way that El Paso seems to be making a habit of, so, that matters, but it's certainly going to be part of a much broader dynamic," said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
"In the next Legislature, you're going to have an enormous pool of people that are either freshman or sophomores."
Two years ago, Republicans, who have long dominated Texas politics, won a super majority in the state House and held a significant advantage in the state Senate. Democrats wielded little influence in big decisions such as cutting the state budget by about $15 billion.
Henson said that dynamic might not change much even if Republicans lose their 102-48 advantage in the state House this November.
"We've seen a lot of fights in the last month between what I would call conservatives and very conservatives in the Republican Party and we're probably going to see a lot of runoffs between conservatives and very conservatives in the Republican Party," Henson said.
Henson said Mary Gonzalez's win as an openly gay candidate is important on a statewide level.
"In the larger context, it means a lot to the extent that we are living through a period of transformation of attitudes about gays and lesbians and it's increasingly being framed as a civil rights issue and an equality issue," he said.
"Given the state's culturally conservative profile in a lot of areas, it's a sign of some change."
But Mary Gonzalez said she wants her election to be about her qualifications.
"We're very proud of the accomplishments that this campaign has reached, but I never really ran as a gay candidate or as a woman candidate," she said.
"I ran as a candidate who cares and really wanted to make a difference as the most qualified candidate for District 75.
"I do think that people cared more about the issues than my personal life," she said. "People cared more about having a legislator who was going to fight for education, make sure people had jobs and put El Paso first."
Mary Gonzalez has a master of liberal arts degree in social justice from St. Edward's University and bachelor's degrees in history and Mexican-American studies from UT-Austin. She was a visiting professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, before moving back to El Paso to be with family and to run for the open seat.
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