Best of the Primary Runoff Election
Best Texas Congress Campaign
Best Texas House Campaign
Texas Senate Campaign
July 22, 2020
San Antonio State Rep. Roland Gutierrez looked like road kill in the making in a primary runoff fight with a machine in his second consecutive bid for a Texas Senate seat that he would have won two years ago if he'd taken that race as seriously as he did with the second half of the comeback campaign in the first four months of the coronavirus crisis.
Gutierrez's overtime foe on paper - Xochil Peña Rodriguez - appeared to have all the advantages in the battle for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 19 with a seven-point first round lead, a fatter war chest, the fact that she's a female and the powerhouse political action committee Annie's List in her corner.
But Gutierrez knew that his runoff opponent was counting on her paramount strength to be her family as the daughter of Ciro Rodriguez - a former Texas House member who served in Congress en route to his current job as a justice of the peace in Bexar County where his brother also was on the OT ballot in a re-election race for county commissioner.
So Gutierrez decided to fight fire with fire by building his own alliance that would run as a team against Ciro, Chico, Xochil and a candidate for the state House seat he was giving up with connections to the Rodriguez family that had controlled the south side of the Alamo City for years. A 12-year House veteran who'd served on the SA City Council before a promotion to the Legislature, Gutierrez faced the challenge of turning Rodriguez's number one asset into a game-changing liability - and while he wouldn't win any points for style or grace - he accomplished this like a creative maestro by making it appear like he was running against a cartel that had made a living off political corruption and deceit.
Gutierrez had plenty help from his runoff rival's dad who the incumbent legislator accused of violating the oath that he took as a low-level misdemeanor jurist by openly campaigning for his daughter in the contest for the job that Republican State Senator Pete Flores of Pleansanton will be trying to defend this fall in a heavily Democratic district where he appears to have no chance to win without another silver-plated gift from the opposing party.
With money in short supply for Democrats in the pandemic runoff, Gutierrez found a way to reap a windfall of free publicity with the unveiling of a legislative proposal that he promised to pursue as a senator called the Political Anti-Corruption and Transparency Act. The so-called Pact Act was tailored almost exclusively for the Rodriguez family - and Gutierrez used the introduction of the plan to clean up state politics as a stage to showcase local television investigations into a peace justice salary adjustment and the fact that he'd been on the campaign trail with his kid when the state judicial conduct code prohibits such behavior.
While Ciro Rodriguez has never been confused with either Joe Kennedy or Lucky Luciano, Gutierrez found him to be a much easier target than a daughter who'd never held public office as a politico who'd spent a dozen years in Congress as a representative in two separate districts where he was eventually ousted by challengers on both sides of the aisle.
But Gutierrez wasn't going to beat a hometown dynasty without a team effort that he orchestrated with Becky Clay-Flores as a major ally in a bid for the seat on the commissioners court that Ciro's brother Chico Rodriguez had expected to win again in the runoff.
Rodriguez the Senate contender had the money to go on the attack with ads that depicted Gutierrez as a pawn for the payday loan industry as a result of a bill that he'd sponsored in a curious move at the statehouse. Xochil Rodriguez raised more money from donors during the runoff period that the pandemic had prompted Governor Greg Abbott to extend for two months. She topped that off with $95,000 worth of campaign loans from her mother Carolina Rodriguez - a longtime party activist in the state's second largest city. Rodriguez's had celebrity appeal as well with $10,000 from legendary Eagles singer and drummer Don Henley as her largest contribution during the pandemic. Gutierrez countered with financial help from a pair of hometown colleagues in State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Ray Lopez and State Rep. Richard Raymond of Laredo as well.
But after finishing third in a special session that Flores ended up winning in a runoff two years ago as a prohibitive underdog, Gutierrez had more to lose the second time around when he had to relinquish a safe seat in the House for a second shot at SD 19. Gutierrez carried eight of the Senate district's 16 counties while Rodriguez prevailed in seven and the two tied in one.
Rodriguez beat Gutierrez by 69 votes with 50.3 percent of the runoff vote that was cast in SD 19 outside of Bexar County. But Gutierrez captured almost 55 percent of the vote at home in Bexar County where he'd had an anemic showing in the special 2018 election - and he eliminated Rodriguez with nearly 53 percent of the total vote. While former council aide Jenn Ramos lost to Rodriguez ally Liz Campos in a runoff duel for the Gutierrez House seat, Clay-Flores put some major icing on the cake when she gave Uncle Chico the boot from the commissioners court with almost 62 percent of the runoff vote.
The Best of the Election selections for 2020 Texas primary runoff will be unveiled in separate installments.