News Column

Gallego Aide Eyes Gonzalez's Texas House Seat

September 3, 2013

Marty Schladen

Cesar Blanco, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, is likely to challenge Naomi Gonzalez in next year's Democratic primary for her District 76 seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

If Blanco, 37, gets into the race, it will make it one of the most hotly contested of this political season, which starts in earnest today -- Labor Day.

Blanco and Gonzalez both said they have also heard that Norma Chavez -- whom Gonzalez defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary -- was also planning to run next year. Chavez didn't respond last week to a request for comment.

Blanco, a graduate of Eastwood High School and the University

of Texas at El Paso, said he was "between a seven and an eight" on a scale of one to 10 when asked how likely he is to declare his candidacy for the District 76 seat later this year.

"I've been doing a lot of community outreach and I'm seeing an appetite for something different," he said.

He later added, "People should look at the politics of the past and ask themselves if that works for them."

Asked if that was a shot at Gonzalez, Blanco said it was a reference to Chavez and the highly negative campaign she ran to retain her seat representing a district that comprises the area south of Interstate 10 from east of Downtown to the Socorro city line.

Gonzalez, an attorney, said she plans to run on her legislative record.

In the session that ended May 27, she passed more bills than any other member of the El Paso House delegation.

"This session, I was very successful in what I tried to accomplish," she said.

However, Gonzalez, 35, is likely to spend part of the campaign dealing with questions about her conduct outside of the Capitol.

In March, she was charged with drunken driving in Austin after her BMW slammed into the back of a Fiat hard enough to push that car into a bicyclist.

Three were taken to hospital with minor injuries and police said Gonzalez's blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.

"I suspect that people are going to make that an issue," Gonzalez said.

Blanco, however, said he didn't plan to talk about it.

"It's an unfortunate situation, but I'm not going to judge her for that," he said. "That's for the voters to decide."

Gonzalez had a pre-trial hearing scheduled last week in Travis County Court 8, but it didn't take place.

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said he couldn't comment on the case and Gonzalez said its conduct was up to her lawyer.

It is increasingly likely that the case will stretch into next year's primary season.

By contrast, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was charged earlier this year with drunken driving, pleaded guilty almost immediately and served a jail sentence.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson that in terms of politics, Lehmberg's strategy was wise.

"What crisis managers will tell politicians is that when problems arise, the best policy is to be candid about it and put it behind you," he said.

"To play something out over months and months, it just stays in the public mind and festers."

Jillson said Gonzalez's opponents probably won't mention her legal problems, but their surrogates will try to make them an issue in the campaign.

If Blanco runs in next year's primary, it will be his first attempt at elected office, but he's hardly new to politics.

He now is chief of staff to Gallego, who won one of the most hotly contested congressional races last year after serving 20 years in the Texas House.

Blanco also was chief of staff to Ciro Rodriguez, who in 2010 lost the Congressional District 23 seat now occupied by Gallego to Francisco "Quico" Canseco, a Republican.

In addition, Blanco has worked for former U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes and he served as Western States Political Director of the Democratic National Committee.

Before that, he served in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence analyst.

Blanco said the National Security Agency deployed him in the Persian Gulf.

Marty Schladen may be reached at mschladen@elpasotimes.com; 512-479-6606.

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(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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