Abbott Sets SD 19 Runoff Date for Sept 18

Governor Greg Abbott announced today the date for the runoff in the emergency special election runoff for Senate District 19. Election day will be September 18, with early voting running from September 10-14. This runoff will fill the seat previously held by the former state senator Carlos Uresti (D).

Former Colonel Game Warden and Republican Peter Flores came in first in the special election held on July 31. Pete Gallego, a former one term Democratic Congressman from TX 23, finished second. Flores and Gallego are battling to replace Uresti, who resigned in June after being convicted of 11 felonies.

On Aug. 10, the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) filed a lawsuit challenging the residency of Gallego. RPT Chairman James Dickey claims it is “common knowledge Gallego does not live in Senate District 19” and explains that Gallego has “for years lived with his family in Austin.” It is a state constitutional requirement that a candidate for the Texas Senate must live in the district he or she runs in for at least a year before the election. However, residency claims are particularly difficult things to contest in court given vagueness in state law.

Gallego’s wife, an attorney who practices primarily in Austin, claims a homestead exemption on a home she owns in Austin. State law only allows a person to claim one homestead exemption.

On Aug. 13, RPT attorneys requested a Temporary Restraining Order to keep the Texas Secretary of State from certifying Flores and Gallego for the runoff election. Dickey explained “Pete Gallego lives in Austin with his family, receives a homestead exemption there, and has twice sought loans from federally insured banks on his [Austin] house.”

Christian Archer, Gallego’s campaign manager, responded to the RPT lawsuit, focusing on Gallego’s property in Alpine (within SD 19). Archer asserted that Gallego “has lived in Alpine since 1989… [he] is registered to vote in Alpine, where he has always voted, and where he pays his utilities.” Furthermore, Archer claimed the RPT lawsuit to be “a desperate move on behalf of a failing campaign.”

Flores won 34.4% of the votes in the special election, while Gallego earned 28.9%. Flores came out ahead, but he was the only major Republican in the race. The Democratic vote was split mainly between Gallego and State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D, HD-119), who received 24.4% of the votes. SD-19 has always been represented by a Democrat. However, the fraud convictions surrounding the resignation of Uresti and the mystery of Gallego’s true residence might be the perfect storm for a Flores victory next month.  

Republican Heavyweights Push Flores to First

Voting finished in the Emergency Special Election in Senate District 19 to fill the unexpired term of former State Senator Carlos Uresti. 8 candidates filed, but the race ultimately boiled down to 3: former Democratic Congressman from TX-23 Pete Gallego, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-119) and former Colonel Game Warden Peter Flores, a Republican. Flores attracted endorsements from several prominent elected officials and organizations, being endorsed early by Texas Right to Life and Hispanic Republicans of Texas, followed by endorsements from former Congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco, Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and others. The endorsements and GOTV efforts from such high profile elected officials were likely crucial in helping Flores earn his place at the top of the ballot. 

Peter Flores and Pete Gallego took first and second place, respectively, with Gutierrez coming in third. Flores and Gallego will advance to the runoff election to fill the remaining two years of the term.

The 2 leading Democrats in the race largely worked against each other, paying little attention to Flores, or Sen. Uresti’s brother Rep Tomas Uresti (D-118), who scarcely made a splash. The 2 main avenues of attack were Gutierrez’s unpaid taxes, and Gallego’s dubious claim to actually being a resident of SD-19 (a requirement in Texas for state legislative districts). In sharp contrast, Flores conducted a squeaky clean campaign, with no hint of scandal, and in fact the opposite. Flores is known to community members as a dedicated public servant in law enforcement, faithful Churchgoer, and devoted husband.
Of the 26,077 votes cast, Flores earned 8965 (34.4%), Gallego 7541 (28.9%), and Gutierrez 6351 (24.4%). No other candidate earned more than 700 votes. 

Due to the unusual timing in the middle of the summer, and the short time period after the election was called by Gov. Abbott before voting began, turnout was low, with fewer than 17,000 people voting early, and around 8000 on election day, amounting to about 10% of the votes cast in the 2016 race. Turnout in the upcoming runoff will likely be even lower than the already historically low turnout so far.

Gallego will continue to struggle to answer questions about whether he truly lives in SD-19, and why voters should give him another chance to represent them, when he was already voted out of office in CD-23 in favor of another Republican, Will Hurd, whose district overlaps almost entirely with SD-19.