Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Republican Pete Flores and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego emerged out of a field of eight candidates Tuesday night to land in a runoff for the State Senate District 19 seat left vacant when Carlos Uresti resigned following a fraud conviction.
Flores, a former game warden, won more than 34 percent of the vote, Gallego nearly 29 percent, and State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-119) came in third with more than 24 percent. A spokesperson for Gutierrez told the Rivard Report just after 9 p.m. that Gutierrez was calling it a night.
The candidates are vying for the seat that Uresti stepped down from June 18 after being found guilty on 11 felony charges, including securities fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The filing deadline for the special election was June 25, but most candidates anticipated an opening before Uresti resigned.
Because none of the candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote, Gov. Greg Abbott must set a runoff election in the district that includes San Antonio’s East Side and stretches far into West Texas.
“From here, it’s on to round two,” Gallego said.
Flores, of Pleasanton, said he was “very humbled” by the support from voters as well as from Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who both endorsed him.
Poteet attorney Charlie Urbina Jones (D), Carlos Uresti’s brother and outgoing State Rep. Tomas Uresti (D), Jesse “Jay” Alaniz (R), Carlos Antonio Raymond (R), and Libertarian candidate Tony Valdivia all received less than 5 precent of the vote.
Flores, who ran against Carlos Uresti in 2016, circulated ads that leaned heavily on the disgraced ex-senator, likely seeing an opportunity for a Republican to step into the district that has traditionally favored Democrats.
Asked about the district’s tendency to elect Democrats, Flores said, “No matter what party you are affiliated with … if you truly want to be represented, I’m the person.”
Meanwhile, some have said Gallego’s campaign convinced Tomas Uresti to run in order to split the San Antonio Democratic vote in Gallego’s favor.
“The Gallego/[political consultant Christian] Archer conspiracy worked: use [Tomas] Uresti to rob votes from [Gutierrez],” Colin Strother, Gutierrez’ consultant, said late Tuesday night as it became apparent Gutierrez would not be in the runoff. “It’s almost the exact margin we’re behind.”
Tomas Uresti disputes this claim, according to several media reports.
Gutierrez’s campaign spent $251,000 compared to Gallego’s $97,000 in the first 21 days of July, according to campaign finance reports. Flores spent $15,000. The short yet heated campaign had the top Democratic candidates defending themselves against accusations.
Questions were raised this month about Gallego’s residency in District 19 when a San Antonio Express-News investigation uncovered evidence that suggested he lives in Austin, which is outside District 19, rather than in Alpine as he claimed.
“I’m a lifelong resident of District 19, and I’m privileged to have represented many of its people for approximately 24 years,” he said, denying the claim via text message to columnist Gilbert Garcia.
“Nobody in West Texas bought that story whatsoever,” Archer said Tuesday. “I don’t think any voter cares about that [residency] stuff … people care about their own interests – if people represent us well. Everyone knows he’s from Alpine.”
The Express-News reported in June that Gutierrez had been “slapped with multiple federal and state tax liens, two breach-of-contract lawsuits and four tax forfeitures by the state of Texas.”
The delinquent tax issues with the IRS have been cleared up, Gutierrez told the Rivard Report on Tuesday. He presented an official document indicating the IRS was in error.
“The determination of Appeals is: The filed Notice of Federal Tax Lien is not sustained and has been withdrawn as it was improperly filed,” the document reads.
“We started in fifth place and came as close as you can get to making the runoff,” Gutierrez said late Tuesday. “I’m so proud of my team and grateful to the folks all over this district who supported us. My work continues in the Texas House. We’re going to get back to work on our legislative agenda and make sure we are ready for the next session.”
People of color make up more than 70 percent of the district’s population of more than 800,000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. San Antonio contributes the most population to District 19, which includes much of the city’s East Side and sprawls hundreds of miles west along the Texas-Mexico border, down to Big Bend National Park, and up to New Mexico.