Pete’s Periódico: Funding Senate District 19 Priorities in the State Budget

Originally published on June 10, 2019.

The state budget, the fundamental reason the Texas Legislature meets every other year, is not a typical family budget. At over $250 billion, the budget is incredibly complex––it was an honor to play a small part in its formation and provided a unique opportunity to fight for Senate District 19 priorities.
The $250 billion in the state budget comes from two sources of taxation: state and federal. The state’s share of revenue and funds is $164 billion; another $86 billion comes from federal funds. Combined, the Legislature has approximately $250 billion to appropriate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year which begins September 1, 2019.
And this is Texas: we take fiscal responsibility seriously, refusing to spend more of your tax dollars than we take and even reserving some money for savings. The Economic Stabilization Fund, the state’s savings account, projected balance is over $9 billion at the end of this fiscal year.
The $250 billion covers every need for this state over the next two years: education, disaster recovery, health care, public safety, infrastructure and more. This session, we drastically increased spending on public education by $12 billion, or 20%. We also allocated billions to recovery from Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. The budget addressed other specific needs: property tax reform, CPS, school safety, teacher retirement compensation, mental health, human trafficking, driver’s license customer service, and more.
Texas State Budget by Article
The laborious process for the Texas state budget began in Senate Finance Committee––where I, the lone freshman Senator on the Committee, had the opportunity to serve. During the first three months of session (January, February, and March), the Finance Committee spent three or four days a week in our hearing room, listening to budget testimony from representatives from every government agency and members of the public.
Once we had the input we needed, the Finance Committee divided to smaller workgroups to inspect in further detail the ten Articles of the state budget. Subcommittees of a sort, I was assigned to two workgroups: Articles I, IV, & V, covering General Government, the Judiciary, and Public Safety & Criminal Justice; and Article II, covering Health and Human Services.
Through my work on the Finance Committee and workgroups, I fought for much-needed Senate District 19 funding priorities. The top of my list was funding for a complete renovation of the San Antonio State Hospital (SASH).
SASH, one of nine state psychiatric hospitals, provides inpatient psychiatric treatment for criminal or civil commitments. In general, state hospitals are overwhelmed with demand consistently exceeding capacity; especially maximum security capacity.
SASH is in desperate need of a renovation. When I toured the complex in December, I saw firsthand how the buildings are outdated and present dangers for both patients and staff. The hospital serves millions of Texans; 12 of Senate District 19 counties are in its zone, from Val Verde county to Bexar and down south past Dimmit.
In the end, we appropriated $190.3 million for construction and renovation of SASH. The plan to completely replace the current building with a new 300-bed hospital on the current campus, better serving the population of Texans struggling with mental health that desperately need our help.
Another healthcare victory for Senate District 19 was $13 million in mission specific research formula funding for UT Health San Antonio (UTHSA). UTHSA is a nationally-recognized research leader in aging, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological diseases, serving many of the same counties SASH covers. This change in funding methodology provides stability to UTHSA’s funding, allowing for better planning for long-term research and reliability.
Public safety was another top priority for Senate District 19. In addition to the $800 million Texas spends on border security, we allocated a special $5 million to the Department of Public Safety for a new law enforcement center in Eagle Pass. Senate District 19 higher education also received attention: both Texas A&M ­– San Antonio and University of Texas at San Antonio received funding increases.
It was a privilege to serve as member of the Senate Finance Committee and play a small part on our state budget. It was time consuming and tedious, but rewarding to steward your tax dollars well to fulfill the needs of our state. I hope you agree.

Pete’s Periódico: 86th Legislative Session Nears End

Originally published on May 20, 2019. 

The Senate Chamber in the Texas Capitol is a distinguished place––murals and portraits of Texas battles and heroes line the wall; two large chandeliers split the middle of the room, lightbulbs circularly arranged spelling “Texas.” The room resonates the story of our great state. And in this room I have spent the majority of the past five months––adding another chapter to our growing story.
My first session in the Texas Legislature is almost in the books. It was a whirlwind of committee hearings and bill debates, long nights and early mornings. But, as the Session nears to a close on May 27 after 140 days of governing, we begin to reflect on our work and see what we did to make a better Texas.
Coming to office, my goal was to fight for the people of Senate District 19, a group of Texans ignored in this Legislature for too long. All communities and counties, big and small, from my district deserved to be served, recognized who they are and what they contribute to this state.
At every opportunity, I advocated for you. Whether in Senate Finance Committee, on the Senate Floor, in meetings with other legislators, industry leaders, or national news. I am always pitching Senate District 19: what I believe to be the hidden treasure trove of Texas.
As a Texas Senate, we had big goals this Session: lower property taxes, reform school finance, rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, and more. These bills are nearing a close and will come to a resolution in the next few days––I will wait for a future Periódico to explain them in detail.
While supportive of the big goals, I had various smaller goals this session. I authored 27 Senate Bills and coauthored another 50––of those 27 bills I authored, I expect around a dozen to reach the Governor’s desk and become Texas law. While nothing is official yet, if around half my bills pass that might be a new record; in recent Legislatures, 1 in 5 bills make it that far.
The bills I worked on covered a spectrum of issues: helping Texas A&M University ­– San Antonio begin an athletics program, promoting the school’s brand and developing a stronger student culture; assisting the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas to better protect their reservation with commissioned peace officers; giving the city of Pearsall the ability to keep more of its taxes to build, improve, and maintain facilities to attract additional tourism.
I worked to protect vulnerable consumers with implementing more accountability for car dealerships; exempt honorably retired Texas peace officers from repetitive and unnecessary training, saving time and money for the state; help ensure our west Texas roads are safe from overweight commercial vehicles; establish a new military license plate for veterans who have received the Army Occupation Medal. These bills and more address specific needs brought to my attention by my constituents.
Through my work in Senate Finance Committee, I fought for important priorities in our Senate District, including money for infrastructure, border security, local air quality, mental health, university funding, and the San Antonio State Hospital. And that’s not everything.
I served in this office with a constituent-first mindset and, if all of these bills became law, it will be multiple victories for Senate District 19. Representing Senate District 19 these past 140 days have been an absolute honor and I have all of you to thank for it. Thank you for calling the office, stopping me in public, and reading these columns––you’re the boss.
I conclude as I always have: Adelante. Onward to these final days of the 86th Texas Legislature, the interim, and beyond. Thank you for reading.

Pete’s Periódico: Protecting Texas Taxpayers

Originally published on May 6, 2019.

While listening to constituents from all parts of Senate District 19––rural and urban, Republican and Democrat––there is one shared issue that emerges: ever-increasing property taxes. Folks told me to “go to Austin and do something.” Well, we did something.
The Texas Senate passed the Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2019; a landmark property tax bill which lowers the rollback rate (the threshold at which an election for voter-approval is automatically triggered). I described this bill (Senate Bill 2) in detail in my Periódico in late February.
Currently, the rollback rate is 8%: meaning cities, counties, and other jurisdictions can increase taxes without voter approval up to 8% a year. Senate Bill 2, as originally proposed, changed that rate to 2.5%. The rate was amended to 3.5% in the final bill that passed the Senate.
To better assist the counties of across my district, I added a floor amendment that covers the unpredictable cost of indigent criminal defense. As criminal trials are impossible to predict, one long trial can cost a rural county an extreme amount of money. Taking this into account, my amendment allows counties to recuperate financially from a prolonged trial with an special adjusted tax rate the following year.
Texans across this state are being taxed out of their home. This property tax legislation seeks to halt that trend. This issue was a top priority for myself, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. I am proud the Texas Senate is one step close to property tax relief for all Texans.
The Texas Senate also passed Senate Bill 23, the Born Alive Protection Act. The bill protects the lives of babies, creating a felony offense for any physician who fails to treat a baby who survive an abortion. I was a strong supporter of this bill when it came through Health and Human Services Committee and again when it was heard on the Senate Floor. Our society is based on how we treat our most defenseless citizens. The measure of Texas is shown by this bill.
In other news, the Del Rio High School Mariachi Band was in the Capitol recently. This talented group of kids won the UIL 6A State Mariachi Festival earlier this spring––they are so good I invited them to come up to Austin and play in the Capitol Rotunda.
The band played for about 45 minutes in the middle of the Capitol, captivating hundreds of visitors with the sounds of vihuelas and trumpets. I recorded part of their performance and posted on our Facebook page; the band went internet viral with over 67,00 video views and reaching almost 150,000 people across Texas. It was a privilege to have them visit.
As you are reading this, the days left in the 86th Legislative Session is slipping down below 40; we are on the home stretch. The recent Easter and San Jacinto Day holidays was the last true break until end of May.
In addition to the bills described above, I am the primary author or coauthor of another 28 Senate Bills that have passed the Texas Senate; overall, over 430 bills have passed. Needless to say, life has been hectic here in Austin.
­­Continue to call and email my office with your opinions on bills and other issues. You are my boss. Adelante!

Pete’s Periódico: The State Budget

Originally published on April 8, 2019.

We have about seven weeks left to make a better Texas. Today to May 27 (the last day of session) will consist of a lot of long days and likely some long nights. The Texas Senate has already passed over 110 bills; the Texas House has passed over 70. As bills pass each chamber, they are again referred to a committee in the other and must start the process over again.
The state budget, the fundamental purpose for the state legislature, passed the House floor and the Senate Finance Committee. It is now waiting to be heard on the Senate floor. The budget allocates almost $250 billion over the next two years to operate all functions of the state. Given the budget stretches well over 800 pages, it would take quite a few Periódicos to explain it all. But I can assure you, after countless hours of committee meetings and workgroups, every dollar of this budget was inspected in detail.
After the Senate passes the budget, likely sometime this week, the primary author of the House and Senate budget as well as some other members will meet together in a conference committee. This group will compare the two budgets side-by-side and rectify any discrepancies. Once the conference committee agrees on identical bills, the budget will head back to both chambers for final approval.
This process is identical for all bills. It is a slow and laborious process for a reason, demanding multiple votes and attention from lawmakers. It should not surprise you that it is much easier for a bill to fail than to pass. This is to the benefit of us, the legislators, and you, the citizens.
I passed my first bill on the Senate floor: Senate Bill 925. The bill deals with a complicated calculation to determine oil and gas production tax credits for low-producing wells and leases. Senate Bill 925 codifies existing practice between the Railroad Commission of Texas and Comptroller, increasing government efficiency and ensuring that only eligible producers receive the tax credit. It is my hope to help government, consumers, and businesses with this bill.
I am a coauthor of Senate Bill 14, which will expand rural access to broadband and deliver high speed internet. The bill is authored by Sen. Robert Nichols of east Texas; I was a proud coauthor along with 20 other Senators. We have numerous cooperatives that service Senate District 19 and this bill enables them to use current easements to provide high-speed broadband service, a rarity in parts of our District.
I was able to spend a lot of time in our district this weekend. Saturday morning I was in Poteet for the annual Strawberry Festival and then drove to Uvalde that afternoon to speak at the Southwest Texas Junior College Gala. Events like these remind me how lucky I am to represent such culturally rich district.
Last week, Atascosa county––my home county––visited the Texas Capitol. That marks the last county to visit Austin this session. It was a joy to welcome each of my 17 counties and visit with the county judges, commissioners, mayors, business owners, and private citizens to talk about real issues. It was refreshing and as I reiterate often, the constituents are the boss.
In that effort, please keep contacting my office with opinions on bills and other issues. We love to hear from you. Adelante!

Pete’s Periódico: Making a Better Texas

Originally published on March 25, 2019. 

We have passed the halfway point of the 86th Texas Legislature; under 70 days remain to make a better Texas. Through my work as a Texas Senator, I try to embody Sam Houston’s definition of leadership: “A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.”
That’s my goal this Legislative session: leave Texas better than I found it. In this effort, the Texas Senate has already passed almost 30 bills––most with unanimous approval. I was a coauthor on six of those bills (Senate Bills 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12).
Senate Bill 500, the supplemental appropriations bill, was among the bills with unanimous support. This appropriation comes on top of the general appropriations bill we are crafting in Senate Finance Committee. Every session, this bill gives the legislature the opportunity to address specific issues the state is facing with one-time appropriations.
In this session, the supplemental budget amounts to over $6.1 billion in additional state spending; $1.7 billion from General Revenue and $4.4 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), the state’s savings account. The current balance of the ESF, commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund, is approximately $13 billion.
Texas has had some rainy days: approximately half this supplemental budget will go directly to Hurricane Harvey relief. Texas was hit with a once-in-a-generation storm, destroying many coastal communities and affecting all Texans. We all saw the heroic stories of Texans stepping up to help Texans­­––now it’s our turn.
The money related to Harvey will fulfill disaster grants, repayment of disaster assistance programs, public school funding, infrastructure rebuilding, and more. We are also looking ahead to future disasters, designating money for strengthening dams and state flood plan infrastructure projects. Other than Harvey relief, the supplemental includes money for school safety, foster care, and state hospitals.
Even after this large withdrawal, there will be around $8 billion remaining in the account, continuing to lead the nation as the largest such state savings account. In Texas, fiscal responsibility is more than a campaign phrase.
One of my bills, Senate Bill 225, has passed Committee and now stands ready for a full Senate vote. The bill creates a new military license plate within the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles for veterans who have received the Army Occupation Medal. There are already over 180 such military license plates; adding this one recognizes the brave men who performed occupation service in Japan, Germany, Italy, and Austria in the aftermath of World War II.
This week, Medina and Real counties are visiting for their legislative days. Atascosa County, where I live, will be visiting on April 2. Another big event coming this week: our Del Rio office is officially opening at the end of this month. Computers, phones, and furniture are being moved in as you read; watch my social medias for the official announcement.
Our San Antonio district office moved to its permanent location earlier this month in the Patriots Casa on the campus of Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Formerly, it was on a different building on campus. You could reach that office at (210) 784-5024 or visit One University Way, Patriots Casa Room 205, San Antonio, TX 78224.
As always, never hesitate to reach out to our Capitol office or district offices with any questions or concerns. I have enjoyed the opportunity to visit both Alpine and Ft. Stockton in recent weekends; little refreshes me more than a good drive across the beautiful plains of southwest Texas, meeting with Texans of Senate District 19. We are rich in history, tradition, and resources––the greatest of which is our people. Adelante!

Pete’s Periódico: Fight for Texas

Originally published on March 11, 2019. 

183 years ago this month, Texas declared independence from Mexico. The following six weeks was a flurry of victories and defeats. The men of the Alamo were avenged on the fields of San Jacinto; General Sam Houston won the long game against General Santa Anna. The free and independent Republic of Texas was established.
The same desire for liberty that drove the first Texians to revolution continues to drive us today­­, though our battles look much different. Friday, March 8, marked the last day to file bills for the 86th Texas Legislature. More than 2,400 bills were filed; some pursue that idea of liberty. Many don’t.
My goal this session is to fight for those good bills that address the core issues: property taxes, education reform, the state budget. Though voting on the Senate floor has just begun, two bills have already passed.
The first bill to pass the Texas Senate officially was Senate Bill 3, providing a $5,000 raise to all classroom teachers and librarians. The teacher pay raise was coauthored by every member of the Texas Senate, passing with 31-0 support.
Parents aside, there is no greater impact on a child’s educational success than a teacher. And in order for this state to deliver on its Constitution promise of an efficient system of public free schools, we must have the ability to attract high-quality teachers to the field­­––and retain them.
We understand a simple salary raise alone will not keep teachers teaching, but it sure does help. The raise allocates $3.7 billion of the state’s general revenue and is the largest such state-funded salary increase in over 20 years. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and entire Texas Senate are in agreement that this investment is worth it for the future of Texas.
The second bill to pass was Senate Bill 10,­­ which establishes the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium. Similarly, this bill was coauthored by every Texas Senator and received unanimous support. The bill allocates $100 million to foster collaboration among health-related institutions with the goal of researching and addressing mental health, specifically among youth. The Consortium will work hand-in-hand with parents, requiring consent before any assessment of a child. Mental health is an area in desperate need of more research and resources; this bill enables the state of Texas to help provide both.
These two bills are the first to finally pass through a chamber and shows the unity of the Texas Senate to tackle top priority issues. Many more are on the way.
Work continues in Senate Finance Committee, mapping out the state biennial budget. Finance Chair Jane Nelson has assigned Committee members to “workgroups” –– subcommittees of a sort, dedicated to inspections of specific areas of the Texas budget. I was assigned to two work groups: Articles I, IV, & V, covering General Government, the Judiciary, and Public Safety & Criminal Justice; and Article II, covering Health and Human Services. Otherwise, Criminal Justice Committee has its first meeting this week. Health & Human Services and Finance are also meeting.
In total, I have authored or coauthored almost 60 bills. We are approaching the halfway point in the Legislative Session; a little over 70 days remaining. Votes are beginning daily on the Senate Floor. Hundreds of letters and calls are coming in weekly from you­­, my constituents, on bills we are working on. Please keep it up, I need your feedback to represent you well: call (512) 463-0119 or send us an email at District19.Flores@senate.texas.gov. Adelante!

Pete’s Periódico: Property Tax Reform

Originally published on February 25, 2019. 

While February is the shortest month, it has not felt that way around the Texas Capitol. Committees are meeting daily and votes on bills are beginning: over 1,000 Senate Bills have been filed this legislative session. There are many that I’m working on, but I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two bills in particular.
I am a coauthor of Senate Bill 2, the Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2019. Property tax is a top priority this legislative session for my constituents; this issue comes up more often any other. The Governor and Lt. Governor agree and are actively pursuing property tax reform. Our bill presents a solution to slow down ever-increasing local tax rates and empower voters to better control their taxes.
A primary objective of the bill is lowering the rollback rate. This rate establishes a tax increase threshold that when passed, triggers an automatic voter-approval election to certify the new tax rate. Currently, that rate is 8%; our bill seeks to move the rate down to 2.5%.
While the move from 8% to 2.5% may seem small, imagine the compounding effect this can have over 5 or 10 years of taxation––all without voter approval. This rollback rate reduction only applies to taxing units with annual revenue that exceed $15 million; smaller districts will remain at the 8% rollback rate with voter opt-in.
The sad reality is local property taxes are forcing residents out of homes. I’m even feeling the heat with a recent property tax increase on my home in Pleasanton. This bill incentivizes local officials to only raise property taxes after bringing the plan before voters­­ (i.e. taxpayers) for approval. It is their money, after all.
As of writing, this bill has passed through the Senate Property Tax Committee and is now pending to be heard on the Senate Floor. Passing meaningful property tax reform is right for you and Texas.
I am also a coauthor of Senate Bill 10, which establishes the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium. This consortium among Texas health institutions will foster collaboration and improve our understanding of mental health issues. Additionally, through my membership on two Senate Committees––Finance and Health & Human Services––I am fighting for a major appropriation for San Antonio State Hospital (SASH). SASH serves 54 counties in central Texas and hundreds of thousands of Senate District 19 constituents. The facility is in desperate need of repair and the capital I am fighting for will allow SASH to better serve our communities.
Otherwise, it was an honor last week to introduce (and the Senate adopt) Senate Resolution 113, officially recognizing February 19, 2019 as Texas Game Warden Day. There are hundreds of dedicated officers patrolling Texas with the commitment of protecting its natural resource and people––as the first Warden in the Texas Legislature, celebrating these men and women was a special day for me.
There are three county Legislative Days coming to the Capitol this week: Pecos County on Tuesday, Crockett and Reeves Counties on Thursday. Eagle Pass Legislative Day will be on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
The next time you read this column, the filing deadline for all bills will have passed and voting on the Senate floor will occur daily. As always, please contact my Capitol office with all opinions on legislation at (512) 463-0119 or send us an email at District19.Flores@senate.texas.gov. I am here for you; adelante!

Pete’s Periódico: State of our State is Booming

Originally published on February 19, 2019. 

On Tuesday, February 6, Governor Greg Abbott spoke to a joint session of the Texas House and Texas Senate to give the “State of the State.” This speech, which resembles the State of the Union, is given every biennial towards the beginning of the legislative session. The address can be summed up in a few words: the state of our state is booming!
Every day, about 1,000 people move to Texas. Our state leads the nation in job creation and has the fastest growing economy in the United States. In large part due to the oil and gas reserves in the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford in Senate District 19, America will be energy independent by next year. We have among the best ranked public schools in the U.S. and are home to nine tier one universities. Texas is soaring, but there is always room for improvement––that is what the Legislative Session is for.
In his address, Governor Abbott identified five emergency items: school finance reform and teacher pay raises, property tax relief, school safety, disaster response, and mental health programs. Under the Texas Constitution, the legislature is prohibited from passing bills in the first 60 days––unless it receives a supermajority vote or declared an emergency item by the governor. We can begin voting on bills pertaining to the emergency items almost immediately, allowing the Legislature to get more done in our 140 days.
The day after the Governor spoke, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht gave a “State of the Judiciary” address. Among many issues, the Chief Justice discussed changes to the judicial election system and bail reform. I look forward to exploring these issues and more during this legislative session as they pertain to my membership of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.
I’m thankful for the hundreds of constituents who have visited the Capitol office during these first weeks of the Legislature. Multiple counties from Senate District 19 have had their legislative day at the Capitol: Brewster, Dimmit, Frio, Maverick, Uvalde, Val Verde, and Zavala. These visits are my favorite part of being a Senator. I treasure my time with the city and county officials, business owners, and private citizens that make time in their schedules to drive up to Austin to visit and share what is important to them.
Otherwise, most of my time has been spent in the Senate Finance Committee room. We hit nine hours for a recent committee hearing on Article II of the state budget (Health and Human Services) but very thankful for this time to hear from any Texans wishing to testify on how we are spending their tax dollars.
Looking ahead, there are some important dates I would like for you to be aware of. There are three more Senate District 19 county Legislative Days this month: Pecos County on February 26, Reeves County on February 27, and Crockett County on February 28. The filing deadline for legislation is March 8; if you have ideas on how the Legislature can better serve this state, let us know.
As always, call my Capitol office at (512) 463-0119 or send us an email at District19.Flores@senate.texas.gov and convey any and all opinions. We are here to work for you. Onward––Adelante!

Pete’s Periódico: Committee Work Begins

Originally published on January 28, 2019. 

We are now a few weeks into the 86th Legislative Session. Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have been officially inaugurated for second terms, hundreds of bills have been filed, and even more visitors have come through my office. And, perhaps most significantly, Senators were assigned to Senate committees.
Senate committees are based on policy areas. The Texas Senate has 16 different committees this year––each one is composed of 5 to 15 Senators, two of which lead the committee as Chair and Vice Chair. Each Senator must be on at least one committee (most are on three or more) and every bill, after it is filed, must be referred by the Lt. Governor to the committee most relevant to the subject matter of the bill. Given the amount of legislation that comes through the Texas Capitol and the limited duration of a legislative session, committees are where legislation is first heard for public hearing, and can be amended and modified the most.
Committee membership is entirely determined by the Lt. Governor. I was appointed to four Senate committees, all of which reflect my life experiences, interests, or Senate District 19. Those committees are: Finance, Natural Resources and Economic Development, Criminal Justice, and Health and Human Services.
★ Finance Committee is primarily responsible for overseeing the state of Texas $200+ billion budget. We inspect every aspect of government spending; which, as you can imagine, is not a short task. We are scheduled to have a hearing almost every day for the first six weeks of session, each one usually lasting from 9 o’clock to late in the afternoon. As the only freshman Senator on this 15-person committee, it is a distinct honor to be included.
★ Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee focuses on oil and gas, environmental protections, miscellaneous taxes, and general economic growth. Senate District 19 is rich in oil, gas, farmland, and natural beauty. Our district is home to 10 state parks and over 20,000 oil and gas wells in the two of the largest plays in the world: Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale.
Additionally, Senate District 19 has thousands of businesses from small mom-and-pop stores to international corporations based out of the District. Texas is a haven for job creation and low taxes; preserving this pro-business climate and continuing the economic success of all Texans is a central task of this Committee.
★ Criminal Justice Committee represents my personal life experience. As you may well know, I served as a Texas Game Warden for 27 years, honorably retiring as a Colonel after leading the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s law enforcement division. I understand well the daily sacrifice law enforcement officers make, as well as the importance of public safety on our state. I hope to make some progress on protecting our law enforcement officers and ensuring incarcerated individuals are prepared to successfully re-enter civil society.
★ Health and Human Services Committee oversees healthcare, physician regulations, and the administration of the largest single appropriation in the Texas budget: Medicaid. Given the rural and low income areas of Senate District 19, many of my constituents have limited to access to healthcare. I hope I can use my membership on this committee to fight for pro-life causes and advocate the most defenseless of our population.
All committees will begin having regular hearings soon. The schedules, agendas, and livestream are available on the Texas Senate website (www.senate.texas.gov). In order for a bill to pass through committee to reach the Senate floor for a vote, it must undergo a public hearing, giving the opportunity for any Texan willing to testify. I hope to hear from many of you during these hearings. If you have any questions on how to testify at a hearing, please contact our office.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Adelante!

How Texas Democrats lost a state Senate seat amid talk of a blue wave

Republican Pete Flores’ upset victory in a Democratic-friendly Texas Senate district Tuesday night has spurred GOP jubilation and Democratic soul-searching with less than two months until the November elections.

“All this talk about a ‘blue wave’? Well, the tide is out,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proclaimed at Flores’ election night party in San Antonio.

Flores beat Democrat Pete Gallego, a former U.S. representative, by 6 percentage points in the special election runoff for Senate District 19, where state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, resigned earlier this year after 11 felony convictions. The win made Flores the first Hispanic Republican in the Texas Senate and grew the GOP majority there to 21 members, a key addition as the caucus heads toward November looking to retain its supermajority.

Democrats moved quickly Tuesday night to blame Gov. Greg Abbott for scheduling the special election at a time when turnout was expected to be low and would favor his party. But they were nonetheless demoralized Wednesday, trying to figure out how they let a valuable seat flip in a district where Uresti repeatedly won re-election by double digits and that Hillary Clinton carried by 12 in 2016.

Gallego’s campaign said that at the end of the day, it was not able motivate its voters as much as Flores did.

“Our investment was in the grassroots and trying to increase the number of Democratic voters in the densest precincts where people hadn’t turned out and trying to cut through the clutter of all the other campaigns going on targeting November … and it proved to be a lot more difficult to get people tuned in to the fact that an incredibly important race was happening today,” Gallego strategist Christian Archer said.

The relative enthusiasm for Flores was evident in the district’s biggest Republican counties — places like Medina County, where he routed Gallego with 80 percent of the vote. Flores’ margins in the red counties were more than enough to offset Gallego’s advantage in vote-rich Bexar County, which gave Gallego a modest 54 percent of the vote.

Flores’ campaign said it benefited from a number of factors throughout the race, starting with the deep Democratic divide that unfolded as Gallego battled state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, ahead of the eight-way July 31 special election. Gutierrez, who won Bexar County then, never endorsed Gallego in the runoff, and on Wednesday, the two sides had different accounts of how much of an effort, if any, Gallego made to court Gutierrez.

But Flores also had to prove himself within his own party and emerge as the consensus candidate on July 31, when two other, lesser-known Republicans were on the ballot. Flores pulled that off with just days to spare, earning late endorsements from a who’s who of top Texas Republicans, starting with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and then Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Abbott.

“We knew that if we could get in the runoff, we’d have additional help because the stakes would be clear … and the value of winning would be obvious,” said Matt Mackowiak, Flores’ consultant.

The 11th-hour endorsements helped propel Flores from third place in early voting to first place in Election Day ballots — and a decisive first overall on July 31. Still, Democrats insisted the district remained bright blue, noting their four candidates combined for 59 percent of the vote and the three Republicans netted 40 percent. In a statement on Election Night, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said it was clear “working Texans are overwhelmingly choosing Democrats to represent their interests.”

In the runoff, the high-ranking support proved vital — especially that of Patrick, who tapped his campaign account to the tune of nearly $175,000 to help Flores with mail, polling and ads. Gallego had some deep-pocketed donors, but nothing like the campaign machinery that Flores was able to import with Patrick’s aid.

There was an also a united front of political action committees assisting Flores, including groups like the Associated Republicans of Texas and Empower Texans — two outfits that were bitterly at odds during the primaries and runoffs earlier this year. The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life got involved especially early, running digital ads that sought to disqualify Gallego among socially conservative Hispanic voters in the district.

One of the biggest differences between the two campaigns was media spending. Flores got a significant head start on radio ads — beating Gallego to the airwaves by at least a week. And Flores went on TV, while Gallego never did. Archer defended that decision Wednesday, saying he did not view it as an effective use of money in a district like SD-19 compared to, for example, investing in an aggressive field program.

In their ads and elsewhere, the campaigns took divergent approaches to messaging. Gallego put forward a largely positive pitch about being the safe, reliable choice — “I Trust Pete” was the slogan — while Flores was not afraid to hammer attacks, airing radio and TV ads seeking to tie Gallego to Democratic congressional leader Nancy Pelosi.

Gallego’s loss was not for a lack of money. While he depleted his campaign funds clashing with Gutierrez, he was able to replenish considerably and had much more cash on hand — $153,000 — than Flores did eight days out. That figure left some political observers wondering Tuesday night if he had left serious money unspent, but Archer said the campaign burned through the cash it had — as well as that which it raised — in the final days, ending the race with less than $15,000 in the bank.

The early voting period, which was from Sept. 10-14, held encouraging signs for Flores. Most of the biggest increases in early vote turnout over total turnout for the July 31 election occurred in counties where Flores had bested Gallego, according to an analysis by the website Texas Election Source.

At the end of the day, the race saw the largest percentage increase in turnout from a special election to a special election runoff in four years, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Still, Democrats pointed the finger at Abbott for calling the special election at a time that guaranteed there would be much lower overall turnout than if he had placed it on the November ballot. In an election night statement, Hinojosa, the state Democratic Party chairman, said Abbott “stole an election, plain and simple … denying the people of West Texas and the U.S. Mexico border representation that shares their values.”

Abbott spokesman John Wittman fired back in a statement: “When it comes to stealing things in SD 19, I’d expect that Texas Democrats, under the leadership of convicted felon state senator Carlos Uresti, know what they are talking about. However, the reason this was the biggest increase in turnout between a runoff and a special election in four years was because Col. Flores, whose life has been dedicated to law enforcement, focused on issues that matter to Texans.”

With Flores, there are now 21 Senate Republicans, giving the party breathing room as it approaches the November elections with as many as three GOP seats in play. That means Republicans can lose two of those seats and still have the 19 members required to bring legislation to the floor without Democratic support.

The value of the SD-19 pickup was not lost on the caucus, which issued a first-of-its-kind unanimous endorsement of Flores about two weeks into the runoff.

“The Republican caucus has never had 21 members until today, so that’s a two-thirds majority,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who chairs the caucus. “That’s a huge advantage on passing legislation like property tax reform.”

Some Republicans also saw Tuesday night as a harbinger for the 23rd Congressional District, a perennial swing district that Gallego once represented in Congress and that overlaps much of SD-19. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is fighting for re-election there in November against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who was on hand Tuesday night as Gallego addressed his supporters.

“The Resistance collided with reality tonight in SD19,” Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. “Nobody should be more worried about this Republican blowout than liberal Gina Ortiz Jones, whose chances in TX-23 are growing dimmer by the day.”

Jones’ campaign echoed other Democrats in saying Abbott scheduled the special election “to beat what’s coming in November” — and dismissed the notion her chances had decreased.

“We’re seeing it on the ground every day on our campaign—voters are excited about opportunity, excited about change and excited to vote for Gina on November 6,” Jones spokeswoman Noelle Rosellini said in a statement.