In El Paso, Community Champion Faces Returning Challenger

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As State Representative Mary E. Gonzalez, a Democrat from El Paso, started to gear up for her third campaign, she heard the news. The former state representative for her district, Chente Quintanilla, was coming out of retirement to try and win back the seat he gave up in 2011. Gonzalez, an outspoken champion of social justice and a tireless advocate for her district, ran for the open seat in 2012 after Quintanilla announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election following the 82nd regular session.

Though they both have deep roots in their rural El Paso County community, and though they are running as Democrats, these two candidates could not be more different. While Gonzalez has received numerous recognitions for her work on behalf of her community and the state, Quintanilla is best known for allegations of voter fraud and receiving the designation of “furniture” from Texas Monthly multiple years in a row (excluding 2007, when he was given dishonorable mention).

Legislators receive the title of “furniture” for being “no more consequential than their desks, chairs, inkwells, and spittoons,” but it isn’t just his inaction on the House floor that sets these two apart. When he did rise to the occasion, that occasion was controversial at best.

In 2005, Quintanilla coauthored HJR 6. This joint resolution paved the way for the ban on gay marriage in Texas that would stay on the books for almost a decade until it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2015. As a coauthor, legislators can lend their public support to (and take partial credit for) bills that are authored by other members. Quintanilla used this procedural tool not only to show his opposition to equality for LGBT Texans, but also to force Texans seeking an abortion to undergo medically unnecessary sonograms in 2011.

During his last legislative session, Quintanilla didn’t just vote for the sonogram law, he signed on as a coauthor, helping to lay the foundation for even more stringent restrictions to come.

When he wasn’t enjoying his life as used furniture on the floor, Quintanilla threw his support behind discriminatory policies that have directly impacted Texans for over a decade. When Gonzalez won a five way primary to replace him, she hit the ground running – and hasn’t stopped since.

An Annie’s List-endorsed candidate and legislator, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ “Freshman of the Year” in 2013, and one of Equality Texas’ “Champions of Equality,” Gonzalez is consistently recognized for her strong commitment to using her office as an instrument for social change both in her local community and across the state. In her sophomore session, she created the infrastructure to bring local leaders together to address disastrous and dangerous stormwater flooding proactively, and worked with Senator Sylvia Garcia to pass groundbreaking legislation cracking down on revenge porn in Texas through the Relationship Privacy Act.

On the floor, Gonzalez goes toe to toe with the Tea Party using strategic procedural tools to block and kill harmful legislation. When State Representative Molly White issued islamophobic orders to her staff, Gonzalez responded by proactively reaffirming her commitment to creating a welcoming and loving space in her office where diversity isn’t just encouraged, it is celebrated.

In her two short sessions, Gonzalez has already made a deep impact on our state, and she is just getting started. In this primary, voters have an opportunity to choose what the future of Texas will look like. For this Texan, the choice couldn’t be more clear.

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About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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