Alpine Democrat and State Rep. Pete Gallego confirmed today that he is running for U.S. Congress.
The Daily Planet first reported Wednesday that Gallego was expected to announce his candidacy the day after Labor Day.
In a phone interview today, Gallego told the Daily Planet he will officially enter the campaign for the 23rd Congressional District’s seat on Tuesday.
The Democratic primary already has three declared candidates, including former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who was defeated in 2010 by the current congressman, Republican and Tea Party favorite Francisco “Quico” Canseco. Both Canseco and Rodriguez live in San Antonio, as do the other two declared candidates.
One other Democrat, John Bustamante, has said he will enter the primary. Bustamante, a San Antonio lawyer, is the son of former Bexar County Judge Albert Bustamante. The elder Bustamante represented the 23rd Congressional district from 1985 to 1993.
Another Democrat, Manny Pelaez, a San Antonio lawyer and trustee of VIA Metropolitan Transit, had said a couple of weeks ago that he planned to enter the primary. He has since withdrawn his name. Pelaez said he got lots of encouragement at home from others in San Antonio but that Gallego has locked down most of the important supporters west of Bexar County. That sets up as a "cage match," as he put it, between Gallego and Rodriguez, and with others, Bustamante.
When I talked to him today (Thursday), Gallego said: “I think I have proven that I can bring two sides together. I have a reputation as a person that all sides can trust.”
Gallego, who has been one of the few stars in the Democratic Party in the past few years, has often been named in speculation about statewide and/or higher office. In fact, in 2008, when it appeared that the Democrats might retake the Texas House, Gallego had the votes to become speaker of the House … if that had indeed happened.
In our discussion today, Gallego also vented his frustration and sadness at a political atmosphere that is ill-serving the American public. If you’re looking for a metaphor, he said, “think of the [current state of U.S. politics] as a car with the ‘check engine’ light blinking.”
“We need to start electing people who put patriotism before party” and ideology, he said.
Later, Gallego said, “We have a system where things are so bogged down and … I’ve reached a frustration level where I felt I had to do something. I’ve never had this kind of frustration level before.”
I asked him if there was one moment, one thing that finally made the decision for him – after all, his name has been bandied about for the 23rd District’s seat since Canseco took it away from Rodriguez.
Gallego thought a moment and then told a story about a recent function he attended at McDonald Observatory. There were a lot of important people at this function, but it was also the type of function where those attending brought their kids, mostly young children. The kids were given an exercise to do, obviously relating to astronomy and the stars, and, Gallego said, “I watched those kids working together, figuring out the rules, coming up with a plan and executing the plan. And I asked myself, ‘Why is that a bunch of 6-year-old kids can figure out how to accomplish their goals but our government can’t do the same thing?’”
Despite his frustration, Gallego said he “is excited about the prospect of running. I tend to work very hard [in a campaign and this won’t be any different.] It will be a challenging race,” particularly since 40 percent of the votes are in San Antonio, where all the other candidates live.
Gallego has good name recognition throughout the state and in San Antonio. And his Texas House district is a solid base for him. “One hundred percent of my [state House] district is within the 23rd Congressional District.”
Despite being a member of the minority party in the Texas House, Gallego has been a leader in the past few sessions of the Texas Legislature.
In this past session, dominated by the Tea Party frenzy, Gallego was one of the few Democrats who actually chaired a committee; he’s also one of the few Democrats in the Texas House who was able to sponsor and pass legislation.
Gallego is an Alpine native, graduate of Alpine High School and Sul Ross. He received his law degree from the University of Texas.
Should Gallego win the primary (or whoever wins the Democratic primary), he will be facing an incumbent (Canseco) who will not necessarily be easy to run against because of the huge amounts of money already sent his way by Republican and Tea Party activist groups. However, given Canseco’s record of voting against such things as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, it should be fairly easy for Gallego to differentiate himself. Canseco has also been unbending in his approach to the party line, even at the expense of allowing the government to function.
The 23rd District is one of the largest in Congress -- larger than many states, stretching from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso.
Canseco, who upset Rodriguez in the November 2010 elections, didn't get much of a safety margin in the latest redistricting maps. Congressional District 23 is Republican on paper, but it's attractive to Democrats who think they can bring in enough voters — especially in a presidential election year — to hold Canseco to one term.
Gallego first won election to the Texas House in 1990 and has chaired various committees and also been part of the Democratic leadership, doing time as head of the House Democratic and the Mexican American Legislative Caucuses. That's made him known to state and national Democrats who might be willing to help him in a congressional contest.
Officially, Nov. 12, 2011, is the first day to file for a place on the primary ballot. Dec. 12, 2011, is the last day to file for a place on the ballot.
The 2012 primary will be on Tuesday, March 6. If a runoff is needed, that will be held on Tuesday, May 22. The general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Feb. 6, 2012, is the last day to register to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary. Oct. 9, 2012, is the last day to register to vote in the general election.