By Carlos Morales and Mitch Borden
State Senate District 19 covers a large swath of West Texas — it spans 17 counties, from Pecos down to Brewster and stretching all the way to San Antonio. For over 100 years, Texas Democrats controlled the district, but that came to a sudden end last year when Republican Pete Flores won the state seat in a Special Election.
The election came as Carlos Uresti, the region’s longtime state senator, stepped down after he was found guilty of wire fraud and money laundering. Now, less than two years later, Democrats are organizing to take back the Senate seat back from Republican control.
Click on the audio player at the top of the page to listen to an extended conversation about the candidates in SD19 and their views on three key policy areas: healthcare, the border and gun control legislation.
The March Primaries are right around the corner. Conservative and liberal voters will turn out to choose who they want representing them in elections later this year. For SD-19, the choice for Republicans is pretty easy, Flores is the only candidate for the GOP that will appear on their ballot.
Rep. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton
Even though he didn’t have any legislative experience before being elected, Flores has been appointed to important committees in the State Senate, such as natural resources, higher education and health and human services. Flores, who doesn’t have a primary opponent, also says he had a hand in getting 13 bills passed in the last legislative session, which he says shows he can effectively work across the aisle to get things done. Marfa Public Radio reached out to Flores for an interview, but the lawmaker declined the opportunity.
Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio
Many West Texans likely know the name Roland Gutierrez already. The San Antonio lawyer currently serves in the Texas House as a representative for District 119. Gutierrez was also part of the democratic contenders who lost to Pete Flores in 2018 for SD19.
When he talks about his policies, Gutierrez says a part of his platform centers on legalizing marijuana in Texas. He estimates the state could bring in $3.5 billion in tax revenue every two years if they legalized cannabis. Gutierrez believes the state is missing out on a cash cow that could fund much-needed programs.
For example, he believes healthcare programs in the rural areas of the district could be funded with the money generated by a marijuana industry
On the topic of gun reform, Gutierrez is in favor of expanding background checks to private sales and instating extreme risk protections, which are also known as red flag laws. As for state funding for border security, he believes the $800 million that goes to the Department of Public Safety should be put back into the state’s general fund. From there, he proposes, $500 million — generated from legalizing weed — would be distributed to border sheriffs and communities to fight cartels and to fund infrastructure projects.
Xochil Peña Rodriguez, D-San Antonio
She may be a newcomer to state politics herself, but Xochil Peña Rodriguez comes from a family with roots in Texas politics. The San Antonio lawyer is the daughter of the former Texas U.S. Representative Ciro Rodriguez who served in Washington D.C. for over a decade and who is now a justice of the peace in Bexar County.
After Republicans gained control of SD19 in 2018, Rodriguez says she felt she had to step up and run for office. For her, she really wants to be a part of the change she feels Texas needs right now.
When Rodriguez recalls the moment she decided to run, she remembers looking around and not really seeing many women in the Senate. She believes “having people with more diverse views can help greatly with the priorities we need to be taking care of” in Texas.
On the healthcare front, Rodriguez wants to expand the threshold of who qualifies for Medicaid. And when it comes to the border and its security, that responsibility falls to the federal government in Rodriguez’s opinion. As a state senator, she would move to strike the hundreds of millions of dollars going to the Department of Public Safety for border enforcement and divert those funds to border communities. This would give residents more power in how their tax dollars are being spent on the border.
Along with her opponents, Rodriguez is in favor of expanding background checks to private sales of firearms and closing other loopholes in Texas. Rodriguez says she isn’t against guns but believes two many lives have been lost and that “common-sense gun reform” needs to be enacted.
Freddy Ramirez , D-San Antonio
Freddy Ramirez is a prosecutor for the Bexar County District Attorney. He did not respond to Marfa Public Radio’s request for an interview by our deadline. Click here to see more of his campaign platform.