Before all the returns were in from Hidalgo County late Tuesday, it appeared District 27 State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. might be able to avoid a runoff with challenger Sara Stapleton Barrera, a Brownsville-based personal injury attorney.
With 100 percent of Cameron County precincts reporting, Lucio was short of the 50 percent plus one vote he needed for a clear win. The campaign was hoping a favorable early-voting tally from Hidalgo County previewed what was to come, though it was not to be.
District 27 encompasses part of Hidalgo County and all of Cameron, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties. Last night’s district-wide unofficial total was 30,849 votes, or 49.78 percent, for Lucio and 22,062 votes, 35.6 percent, for Barrera. Lucio’s other challenger was Ruben Cortez, who won 9,059 votes or 14.62 percent. The total vote count for District 27 was 61,970.
In Cameron County, 15,917 votes (48.93 percent) went to Lucio and 11,632 votes (35.76 percent) to Barrera, leaving Cortez with 4,982 or 15.31 percent of the vote.
Speaking to the Herald on Wednesday, Barrera thanked the community for her strong primary showing.
“People are ready,” she said. “They saw a real opportunity to make a difference, and obviously I had an amazing team and we put a ton of effort into this thing.”
Barrera said her team will strategize on how to approach the runoff phase but that she intends on staying true to what’s important to her, such as transparency, openness, accessibility and “being a straight shooter.”
A supporter of term limits, Barrera said Lucio — who was first elected to the Senate in 1991 after two terms in the Texas House of Representatives — has been in office too many years and that District 27 constituents deserve a fresh voice. She also criticized him for being too conservative and voting with Republicans on a regular basis.
“I was shocked when I first became aware of his record,” Barrera said. “If you’re going to be a Republican that’s fine, but you’ve got to run as a Republican. You can’t dupe your constituents into thinking you’re one thing when you’re another.”
As for Lucio’s charge that Barrera, who has not held public office before, lacks the experience necessary to accomplish anything in the Senate, she said she has a decade in the courtroom “fighting for people’s rights every day” that gives her plenty of experience.
“If anybody’s lacking experience it’s not coming from this end,” Barrera said.
The Harlingen native said she’s excited to have achieved a runoff.
“I think that one of the things that I’m really proud about, if I win I’ll be the first female senator in all of history to represent this district,” Barrera said. “It’s monumental and huge. It’s time little girls and young women here have that and know that it’s our time.”
Lucio, the third most senior member of the Senate, said Tuesday night that his campaign approach likely would change in a runoff.
“In the primary I have focused strictly on a very positive note, the things that we’ve accomplished, higher education, property tax relief,” he said. “We focused on housing and the reforms that have taken place, all the important issues that impact my district.”
Lucio said that this time around he’ll make more of an issue of Barrera’s lack of political experience.
“I want the public to be informed,” he said. “An informed public will make a wise decision.”
Lucio said it’s no time for a freshman to take over District 27, with the U.S. census count about to begin and millions of dollars in federal funding at stake, and the all-important process of redistricting to follow. He sits on the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting and has been involved in the redistricting process three times in the past.
Lucio described himself as a moderate to conservative Democrat, which he believes reflects the majority of his constituency, and a Roman Catholic whose faith plays a role in his decision making. As for voting with Republicans, it’s the only way to get anything done in a chamber controlled by the other party, he said.
“I know that if there’s only 12 Democrats and I need 19 to pass a bill, I’m going to have to vote with Republicans and help Republicans. … I help them in their local bills, they help me. Yes, I vote with them. They vote with me. We get the job done, and we’ve accomplished a lot. So I’m not going to apologize.”
Whoever wins the May 26 runoff election will face Raymondville Republican Vanessa Tijerina in the Nov. 3 general election. Tijerina ran unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary.