Crowded field to vie for Alvarado’s former Texas House seat
It’s 2019, but election season is not over yet in Texas.
Eight candidates filed by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline for the Jan. 29 special election to fill the Texas House seat vacated by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. Early voting begins Jan. 14, a little more than a month after Alvarado won an open spot in the upper chamber.
The field consists of six Democrats — Elias De La Garza, Oscar Del Toro, Ruben Gonsalez, Christina Morales, Alfred Moreno and Melissa Noriega — Libertarian Clayton Hunt and Republican Martha Fierro, the third-place finisher in last month’s race for Senate District 6, which overlaps with part of Alvarado’s old House district.
The Democratic-leaning district, which covers part of the Heights and runs through downtown and South Houston to Beltway 8, voted 67 to 29 percent for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.
The race is likely to yield turnout that is low even for a special election, though, making for unpredictable results. Two years ago, about 35,000 voters from the district cast ballots, the eighth-lowest total among all 150 Texas House districts. Some residents have already voted twice within the last two months, in the November midterms and the December race won by Alvarado, likely producing voter fatigue.
Still, a handful of the candidates said they have considered running for months, waiting only to see who would win the race for the Texas Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, who resigned shortly after she was elected to Congress in November.
Morales, the president and CEO of an East End funeral home, announced her candidacy the day after Alvarado’s win.
“I definitely feel like I’m well connected to the constituents of District 145. I know them intimately, especially through my business,” she said. “We hear their stories daily. We help them through their darkest hour.”
Morales has assembled a campaign team made up of Alvarado’s staffers, including consultant Jaime Mercado, lead strategist Marc Campos and campaign manager Linh Nguyen.
“I wanted a team that knew the district the way I know the district and would be capable of delivering my messages,” she said.
Noriega previously held the House District 145 seat when her then-husband, Rick Noriega, was deployed to Afghanistan during the 2005 legislative session. The thought of running entered her mind in 2017, when former U.S. Rep. Gene Green announced he would retire, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately left the seat open.
Part of Noriega’s pitch, she said, is that the special election winner will be sworn in amid a session that spans just 140 days — and she would be able to assimilate quickly because of her experience, she said.
“There are still people there that I know from before,” she said, mentioning presumptive House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican.
Noriega has also served as an at-large member of Houston City Council and worked for Houston ISD, while keeping an eye on the Legislature from afar.
“Last session, there was a lot of time spent on things that probably don’t benefit Texas,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to work with people and be collegial in a way that’s productive. That I think is still there.”
Fierro, meanwhile, appeared encouraged by her 23 percent share of the vote in the Senate District 6 election — a result the Harris County Republican Party cast as a strong showing that landed her within striking distance. She came within fewer than 200 votes of second place, but was well behind Alvarado’s 50 percent of the vote.
“The voters of SD 6 have asked for property tax relief and a resolution to school funding,” Keith Nielsen, Fierro’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “Martha’s commitment to them continues in HD 145. She will work with other House members and with the governor to get it done.”
Del Toro, a two-time candidate for Pasadena City Council, said he has also thought about running since Green’s retirement. He immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 2000 and operates a small business with his wife selling toner cartridges.
He jumped into the Pasadena council race after what many perceived as an attempt by the mayor to limit the power of Hispanic voters by changing district boundaries and adding at-large districts. The issue of voting rights is still galvanizing, Del Toro said.
“I tell (people), you vote because you care. … That way you connect with your community,” he said. “It’s not about the outcome. You don’t go to the Texans game for the outcome, you go for the process.”
Hunt, the Libertarian, identified himself as a student and activist on a Crowdpac fundraising page, and said he has actively organized open-carry walks, served as a “vocal opponent of police brutality” and supported the movement to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Atop his Twitter page is a photo with the words, “I like my guns like I like my immigrants. Undocumented” and the hashtag #ArmTheImmigrants.”
Hunt ran against Alvarado in November and received about 10 percent of the vote. De La Garza, an insurance agent, received 31 percent of the vote in the 2008 Democratic primary against Alvarado.
Information on Gonsalez and Moreno was not available Thursday.