El Paso House race turns nasty as Quintanilla teams with TER in bid to unseat Rep. González


Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, surrounded by members of the El Paso delegation who support her reelection, along with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston.

EL PASO – The race to represent one of the poorest areas in Texas has now been infused with big money from outside the district as a former lawmaker tries to take back the seat in The Legislature he surrendered several years ago to run unsuccessfully for county commissioner. That cash from a third-party group billing itself as “pro-education reform” is behind a flood of negative TV ads, mail pieces, and online advertising aimed at Rep. Mary González, a sophomore and a member of the powerful House Public Education Committee.

House District 75 – including the far east side of El Paso and the small communities of Clint, Fabens and many colonias along the international border – has been represented by González since 2013. Former Rep. Chente Quintanilla has carpet bombed the area with television ads and mailers thanks to tens of thousands of dollars funneled to his campaign from Texans for Education Reform PAC, which of course is an offshoot of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

Mail pieces recently sent to homes here feature a picture of a stack of condoms on a school lunch tray paired with the words “Mary Gonzales wants CONDOMS IN GRADE SCHOOLS.” Rep. González, like the vast majority of Democratic lawmakers, supports “age appropriate” sex education in public schools, not condoms for first graders.

Those mailers followed a TV ad blitz – a blitz that is ramping up again – criticizing González for calling a point of order on a bill dealing with water issues in Hays County. That bill was ultimately passed and stakeholders agreed it was improved upon final passage.


Former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo.

As reporter Marty Schladen wrote recently in the El Paso Times, TER has put at least about $100,000 into the race with the PAC’s payments going directly to a firm called The Forma Group, where retiring Rep. Marisa Márquez, D-El Paso, works in “client acquisition and development.” Those payments are reported on the PAC’s Ethics Commission filings as in-kind contributions to Quintanilla. That money – coming from a group promoting conservative reforms to education that González has consistently opposed – represents the bulk of Quintanilla’s war chest.

González has been competitive in her fundraising from individuals and traditional Democratic groups – $83,000 in the last half of 2015 and roughly $24,000 on her last report.

Some veteran Texas Capitol observers have said it is highly unusual for a sitting state representative to be employed at a firm that is consulting on political races. But Rep. Márquez said she is focused on other business at the company. When asked by Quorum Report if she is helping consult on the Quintanilla race – in which her longtime political allies are spending a significant amount of money with Forma Group – Márquez flatly said “no.”

The question was asked because, as Schladen noted in his news report, Márquez has been “a big recipient of contributions from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that has had great success at limiting liability suits in the state. That group’s chairman and CEO is Houston builder Dick Weekley, who also is a director of Texans for Education Reform.”

“I don’t have anything to do with that race,” Márquez said. She added that the only local race she has a hand in is the contest to succeed herself in the Texas House, in which Márquez has endorsed attorney Adolfo Lopez. Márquez said that until Saturday, no media outlets had asked her to weigh in on any local politics since she announced her retirement. “While they have covered in the media that he has my support, no one has reached out to me to comment on my support for Adolfo, my transition or goals for the end of my term,” Márquez said.

At first, the campaign finance reports of Texans for Education Reform PAC showed the Forma Group doing “production” for the Quintanilla campaign. But, the latest filings show payments for things like broadcast, outdoor, digital media, advertising, and design, direct mail, political consulting, campaign signs and a GOTV program. With the amount of television ads running on Quintanilla’s behalf right now, it would not be surprising to learn TER’s spending in this race ultimately tops $200,000.

As of Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for TER PAC had not responded to Quorum Report’s inquiry for comment.

Neither Quintanilla nor González is from a highly populated part of the district, which makes this race especially difficult to handicap. The incumbent is from rural Clint, a small town of less than 1,000 while the challenger is from Tornillo, a similarly sized rural community located even further than Clint from the suburban part of the district.

González, who has sharply criticized her opponent in interviews, has been mainly focused on ground game. However, it is difficult for block walking to be effective outside the suburban portion of the district because the rest of it is so sparsely populated and disconnected due to a lack of basic infrastructure. It is an understatement to say many people here live in poverty, as residents of colonias often do not have actual streets, running water, waste water services, gas service or electricity.

“I guess a lot of people here don’t even know that an election is going on,” said one of González’s volunteers between bites of a small breakfast taco on Saturday morning.

In a pep talk to a small band of block walkers gathered at the Texas AFT Socorro office, González had an added sense of urgency because of the negative advertising blanketing the district.

“The only way to combat that is to tell the truth to the people at the doors as many times as we can,” she said. Noting that voters in the area strongly support efforts to strengthen public education in Texas, González told her volunteers “What you’re doing for our district could not be more important.”

Copyright February 22, 2016, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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