March 15, 2018
Best Incumbent Campaign
Best Challenger Campaign
Best Texas Senate Campaign
Best Open Race Campaign
Best Primary Team Effort
Texas House challenger Jessica Gonzalez may owe a debt of gratitude to the actresses who blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein as a political beneficiary of the #MeToo movement that became a rallying cry for women across the nation and the world in recent months. The Dallas Democrat's timing turned out to be perfect in a legislative district where she had an opportunity to capitalize on a flood of new women voters with a campaign that was tailor-made for them en route to ousting veteran State Rep. Roberto Alonzo at the primary ballot box in 2018.
Gonzalez was one of 35 women who defeated men or forced them into runoffs in primary contests at the state and local level in Dallas County last week. A grand total of three males - State Rep. Eric Johnson, the Democratic nominee for district attorney and a Democrat who's running for precinct chair - prevailed in primary fights with female opponents in races that were contained exclusively within the county that has the second largest population in Texas. But the future Texas lawmaker's victory in a House District 104 race that no Republicans filed to run was arguably the most impressive win by a Democrat at any level in the Lone Star State in round one in light of the long odds that she faced when she entered the ring belatedly less than three months ago.
A 37-year-old attorney, Gonzales was taking aim at a legislator who'd been a fixture on the local political scene as the leader of the Mexican American Democrats when that group was still the official Hispanic caucus for the state party in Texas in the 1990s. Alonzo had served in the Legislature's lower chamber for 19 out of the past 25 years - and he would have the trial lawyers, labor, firefighters, teachers and other key Democratic constituencies in his corner along with the big special interests and their lobbyists in Austin as well. Alonzo as a result would have almost four dollars to spend on the race for every $1 that the challenger managed to raise in relatively small chunks with one major exception. Gonzalez received $10,000 from former law firm associate Domingo Garcia - a longtime Alonzo political enemy who'd unseated the current HD 104 incumbent in a primary runoff in 1996 before losing to him at the polls six years later. Alonzo and Garcia had been law partners when the ex-representative who's been Gonzalez's biggest contributor led a mutiny 22 years ago that culminated in the creation of the Tejano Democrats and eventual ouster of MAD in a bitter fight for formal Texas Democratic Party caucus status. Garcia attempted a comeback in a 2012 congressional race that he ended up losing to U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth in a runoff election.
Gonzales appeared at first to be a Garcia proxy in the long-running feud with Alonzo - and there's no way to really tell from inside the insulated Austin beltway the actual extent of the incumbent's successor and predecessor's fingerprints on her campaign this year. But the Gonzales camp knew from the start that Alonzo would be vulnerable in a district with one of the state's lowest turnout records - and it seized on the singular issue that had the potential to cause Alonzo maximum damage in the part of Big D that he represents. Alonzo had brazenly opposed a bill that hometown colleague Johnson had sponsored last year in a move that was designed to protect low-income Dallas residents from displacement in state-certified reinvestment zones where developers are able to get significant tax breaks. The measure had sailed out of the Urban Affairs Committee with a unanimous vote before Alonzo threatened to kill it as a member of the powerful Calendars Committee that controls the flow of legislation to the House floor. But Gonzales knew that the vast majority of the people who live in HD 104 supported the Johnson proposal - and she succeeded in making it appear like the lawmaker she wanted to replace had sold out his constituents as a favor for developers who'd been perceived as Alonzo cronies and allies. Gonzales painted Alonzo as a political dinosaur who'd been a relatively inept legislator in a district where he hadn't faced a real test at the polls since he reclaimed the HD 104 seat in 2002. The challenger portrayed herself as fresh blood that was desperately needed in a district with an incumbent who'd been out of touch with it like many longtime legislators have been before learning the hard way that longevity doesn't make them invincible. Gonzalez had an appeal that transcended old-guard party boundaries as a member of the LGBT community and former Obama White House immigration policy advisor. And she was either a visionary or downright lucky when it came to the sharp spike in turnout that the women empowerment crusade that's sweeping the country would fuel in Dallas County and beyond in the opening round of the 2018 Texas elections.
Alonzo still appeared to have a slight edge in a primary battle that had the potential to be very close as it neared the finish line. But appearances couldn't have been more deceiving in this case as Gonzalez crushed Alonzo by 25 percentage points with more than 62 percent of the vote. While Garcia won the latest round in a lingering personal rivalry, it's pretty clear that a rising star for the Democratic Party in the Lone Star State was born on primary election night in HD 104.
The Best of the Election selections for 2018 Texas primary contests will be unveiled this month in separate installments for several different categories.