Sylvia Garcia, newly elected to Congress, resigns from Texas Senate

November 9, 2018

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat elected to Congress earlier this week, announced Friday she is resigning from the Texas Senate, setting in motion a process to fill the seat that may be resolved after the Legislature convenes in January.

Garcia’s departure ramps up what had been a low-key race for her seat, which covers Houston’s north and southeast sides. Two Houston Democrats — state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez — launched their candidacies after Garcia won her March primary.

Elected Tuesday in Texas’ 29th Congressional District, Garcia resigned Friday to coincide with the start of the “expedited election” period, a provision of Texas’ Election Code intended to speed up special elections for vacancies that occur during or close to a legislative session.

The “expedited” period kicks in the 60th day before the Legislature convenes, which in this case is Friday. The session begins at noon Jan. 8, so Garcia is making her resignation effective at 12:01 p.m.

Once Gov. Greg Abbott accepts Garcia’s resignation, the Texas Constitution gives him 20 days to order an election, though it could take up to eight days for the resignation to become official.

The election must then fall on a Tuesday or Saturday, 21 to 45 days after Abbott orders it, according to the election code. That means if Abbott accepts Garcia’s letter Friday and immediately orders the election, he could schedule it as early as Dec. 1.

Otherwise, the election could fall as late as Jan. 19, if Abbott orders the election a full 28 days after Friday and schedules it on the last possible day within the “expedited” window.

Abbott and Garcia feuded earlier this year over language in Garcia’s initial July resignation letter, in which she announced her “intent to resign” Jan. 2, just before joining Congress.

She asked Abbott to schedule a special election to coincide with the Nov. 6 general election, but the governor determined he could not order an election short of Garcia submitting an “actual resignation.”

Garcia then withdrew her letter, though she said it constituted a valid resignation because the election code says vacancies can occur when “an officer submits a resignation, whether to be effective immediately or at a future date.” Abbott’s chief of staff, Luis Saenz, said Garcia’s use of the word “intent” did not amount to a valid resignation.

Meanwhile, Republicans control 19 seats in the Senate after losing a pair of incumbents Tuesday. The 31-seat upper chamber’s rules require three-fifths approval to bring legislation to the floor, meaning Republicans’ current numbers allow them to do so without Democratic support.

But if even one Republican breaks ranks, the party will fall below the 19-seat threshold. Garcia’s vacancy would afford Senate Republicans one seat of breathing room, allowing them to bring bills to the floor with an 18-person bloc.

Alvarado and Hernandez were both re-elected to their House seats Tuesday, with Alvarado facing only a third-party challenge and Hernandez running unopposed. Their districts both overlap with Senate District 6.

Garcia and Veronica Escobar, a former El Paso County judge, jointly will become the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress. Escobar, a Democrat, won the House seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

jasper.scherer@chron.com | Twitter: @jaspscherer

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