Ab­bott calls race to re­place Garcia

Ex­pe­dited elec­tion for Texas Se­nate seat will take place Dec. 11

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Jasper Scherer STAFF WRITER

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Demo­crat elected to Congress ear­lier this week, re­signed from the Texas Se­nate on Fri­day, prompt­ing Gov. Greg Ab­bott to set an ex­pe­dited elec­tion for Dec. 11 to fill her seat.

The or­der ramps up what had been a low-key race to rep­re­sent Garcia’s dis­trict, which cov­ers Hous­ton’s north and south­east sides and was drawn to fa­vor Democrats. State Reps. Carol Al­varado and Ana Her­nan­dez, both Hous­ton Democrats, launched their can­di­da­cies af­ter Garcia won her March pri­mary.

Garcia, who was elected Tues­day to the 29th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, re­signed Fri­day from the Texas Se­nate to co­in­cide with the start of the “ex­pe­dited elec­tion” pe­riod, a pro­vi­sion of the 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. The up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins at noon Jan. 8.

Ab­bott or­dered the elec­tion soon af­ter Garcia sub­mit­ted her res­ig­na­tion let­ter at 12:01 p.m., re­veal­ing a rapid se­ries of dead­lines. Can­di­dates have un­til 5 p.m. Nov. 16 to file for the elec­tion, 10 days be­fore the start of early vot­ing Nov. 26. Elec­tion Day is Dec. 11, a Tues­day.

Un­der ex­pe­dited elec­tion rules, the gover­nor must sched­ule the elec­tion on a Tues­day or Satur­day, 21 to 45 days af­ter it is or­dered. That means Ab­bott could have sched­uled the elec­tion as early as Dec. 1. He also could have held off on sched­ul­ing it un­til as late as Jan. 19.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Tues­day, Garcia said she re­signed at the begin­ning of the ex­pe­dited pe­riod to give Ab­bott time to sched­ule the elec­tion be­fore the ses­sion be­gins.

In her res­ig­na­tion let­ter to Ab­bott, she said she looked for­ward to “con­tin­u­ing our work to­gether for a bet­ter Texas.”

“From fight­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing, to mak­ing sure Texas gets what it needs at a time of dis­as­ter, to our com­mon goal of high-qual­ity early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, we have found com­mon ground be­fore, and I hope we find it again,” Garcia wrote.

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 Texas Se­nate af­ter los­ing a pair of in­cum­bents Tues­day. The 31-seat up­per cham­ber’s rules re­quire three­fifths 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 af­fords Se­nate Repub­li­cans one seat of breath­ing room, al­low­ing them to bring bills to the floor with an 18-per­son bloc.

Both Al­varado and Her­nan­dez ac­knowl­edged that Repub­li­cans out­num­ber Democrats in the Texas Se­nate, but said they were hope­ful they could work across the aisle.

“What we’ve seen this elec­tion cy­cle is that vot­ers are more en­gaged,” Her­nan­dez said Fri­day. “We saw that in the in­crease in voter turnout in the Novem­ber elec­tion, and I hope to see that con­tinue through­out the leg­isla­tive ses­sion. In my 13 years as a state (rep­re­sen­ta­tive) … that’s when I’ve seen the great­est change, is when you have that in­volve­ment from the com­mu­nity.”

Al­varado, who lost to Garcia in a 2013 spe­cial elec­tion for the seat, touted her his­tory of pass­ing bills when Democrats had slim rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the House.

“I have a good track record of work­ing across the aisle, work­ing in a bi­par­ti­san way, but never com­pro­mis­ing the val­ues that I hold near and dear to my heart and that are im­por­tant to my dis­trict,” she said.

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

Shortly af­ter Garcia’s an­nounce­ment, both law­mak­ers weighed in with state­ments urg­ing Ab­bott to call the elec­tion as soon as pos­si­ble.

“I look for­ward to tak­ing my mes­sage of a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­er­ship in the con­tin­ued fight for qual­ity schools, af­ford­able health­care, and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties to the vot­ers of Se­nate Dis­trict 6,” Her­nan­dez said.

Al­varado fo­cused her state­ment on Garcia, say­ing her “ad­vo­cacy to those who needed a voice at the State Capi­tol was stead­fast. Her lead­er­ship will be missed.”

Oth­ers echoed the call for Ab­bott to sched­ule the elec­tion swiftly, in­clud­ing Al­dine ISD Su­per­in­ten­dent LaTonya Goffney in a let­ter to the gover­nor.

“Dur­ing the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion, there will be many crit­i­cal is­sues fac­ing school districts, in­clud­ing Al­dine ISD, which is lo­cated in State Se­nate Dis­trict 6, span­ning 111 square miles in North Hous­ton,” Goffney wrote. “Our dis­trict serves more than 67,000 stu­dents in 81 schools with nearly 9,500 em­ploy­ees. It is al­ready be­ing pro­jected that there will be nu­mer­ous mea­sures sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact­ing our stu­dents, par­ents, staff and com­mu­nity.”

The Greater Hous­ton Part­ner­ship in a state­ment said it hoped the elec­tion would “be called as soon as pos­si­ble to en­sure the Hous­ton re­gion is fully rep­re­sented dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.”

“We have many press­ing re­gional and statewide is­sues that need to be ad­dressed, and we need all Hous­to­ni­ans to have their voice heard in Austin,” a state­ment from the group reads.

Garcia and Veron­ica Es­co­bar, a for­mer El Paso County judge, jointly will be­come the first Lati­nas to rep­re­sent Texas in Congress. Garcia beat Repub­li­can Philip Aronoff to re­place Rep. Gene Green, a Demo­crat who is not seek­ing re-elec­tion.

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.

Sylvia Garcia re­signed Fri­day from the Texas Se­nate to take a seat in Congress.

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