Three candidates who have never held public office are vying to succeed state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is leaving his Texas House District 116 seat after eight terms to challenge state Sen. José Menéndez in the March 1 Democratic primary. The district has not seen a truly competitive race since Martinez Fischer first won election in 2000. He has either run unopposed or defeated challengers by huge margins over his long tenure.
Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.
The victor will represent a district that stretches from the city’s deep Westside from Our Lady of the Lake University to Woodlawn Lake and the neighborhoods ringing Jefferson High School, and stretches northwest along Interstate 10 West through Balcones Heights. The district includes the South Texas Medical Center, part of Leon Valley, and the main campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Arévalo and her family are steeped in community activism. Her uncle, David Arévalo, helped rally community members in the fight over the displacement of contaminated soil from the Alamodome construction site in the early 1990s.
“I remember when I was a kid going to community meetings about the ‘Dome dirt and how we thought it affected my grandmother’s health,” Arévalo, 34, said. “That’s when I learned that if you organize your community and if you’re committed to one goal, you can make a true change at the local level.”
An Incarnate Word High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.
She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.
Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.
Arévalo is the executive director of the nonprofit Network for Young Artists, an after-school program that provides affordable music education classes in the Deco District and at Haven for Hope. Her parents are teachers, and public education finance reform is at the forefront in her campaign.
“When Republicans cut money from education, that angers me. Education shouldn’t be treated like a business,” she said. “We need to put in our tax dollars to help teachers, and to help students who will be leaders of future generations.”
Adequate access to health care is also important for Arévalo: “People should never have to worry about health care coverage.”
Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Golando said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.
Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.
The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.
“Whether I get the fees is immaterial,” Golando said.
Golando wants his campaign to be about issues such as access to health care, especially among children.
“I’m a father and I am deeply concerned with the Texas that my child will inherit,” he said. “I have a special place in my heart for the underserved and underprivileged.”
Golando cited San Antonio’s rank as first among large Texas cities in the rate of premature births, and said the prenatal care deficit has worsened in Bexar County.
“We have to start working on the premature birth issue. There’s a lot of small things and some big things we could do,” Golando said. He suggested, for example, a pilot program that helps make sure that babies get “the best start possible,” physically, in their first three months.
Golando said he’s confident his legislative staff experience will tip the scales in his favor in voters’ eyes. He has received formal endorsements from State Reps. Justin Rodriguez (D-125) and Poncho Nevárez (D-74).
“You need leverage and experience to incrementally advance what matters the most to citizens,” he said. “It’s about what the district wants. My experience in the Legislature matters. If I win, I want to represent everyone and do what is right.”
Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.
“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”
Improving public education, increasing graduation rates and preparing students to enter the workforce are key issues for Resendez. As of 2013, less than one-third of the district’s adults had graduated from college and 17% did not graduate from high school.
“We have to make sure we educate our children well so they can get good jobs that’ll sustain them and the community,” she said. Resendez, a managing partner at a graphic design agency and former president of the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said she understands the issue of equal pay for women as a Latina and small business owner.
“When I take on an issue, my thing is, you have to change the conversation to better understand both sides,” she said.
The League of Women Voters will moderate a forum for District 116 and District 26 candidates 7-8 p.m. Feb. 8 at Jefferson United Methodist Church, 758 Donaldson Ave. All of the candidates have agreed to attend and participate.
Early voting for the March 1 primaries will be held Feb. 16-26.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Arévalo graduated from Jefferson High School. She is in fact a graduate of the Incarnate Word High School.
*Top image: District 116 candidates from left: Diana Arévalo (courtesy photo), Martin Golando (photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone), and Ruby Resendez (photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone).