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Gilbert Pena

Let the man have his victory lap, but let’s not read more into his victory than there is.

Gilbert Pena

By the time Harris County’s conservative leaders fished for their car keys at their Election Night watch party, there were few candidates left to congratulate. Nearly every Republican had won, and each had earned a handshake or name-check from the movement’s political class. Every one, that is, but Gilbert Pena.

Pena finally had triumphed in his fifth run for political office to score the biggest local upset of the evening, but his name remained unsaid. Amid the post-election jubilation, the new state representative was unnoticed. Pena’s supporters would argue that’s because he had been underestimated – again.

“If you underestimate Gilbert Pena, you’re making a mistake,” said his treasurer, Bill Treneer.

Pena, an unassuming retiree derided as a perennial candidate by those Republican signal-callers, rode a GOP wave to oust Pasadena Rep. Mary Ann Perez by 155 votes in November. Pena struggled to woo any donors or political support – Perez’s war chest was 250 times the size of his – but the short and reserved man is used to upending how others perceive him.

The 65-year-old rose from a hardscrabble early life to become a new legislator thanks to a work ethic that can make him impossible to ignore off-year partisan voting tendencies.

I fixed that last sentence for you. Here are the average vote totals for statewide candidates in HD144 in the last four elections. Let’s see if a pattern emerges.

Year Avg GOP Avg Dem GOP% Dem% ===================================== 2008 10,899 12,813 46.0% 54.0% 2012 11,027 12,128 47.6% 52.4% 2010 7,887 7,367 51.7% 48.3% 2014 6,091 5,357 53.2% 46.8%

For what it’s worth, soon-to-be-former Rep. Mary Ann Perez was above average in each of the last two elections, receiving 12,446 votes in 2012 and 5,863 this year. Pena and 2012 candidate David Pineda were both a pinch below average, scoring 6,015 and 10,885, respectively. Maybe Pena will get the establishment support next year that he lacked (and won without) this year. Maybe some local opportunist will primary him out. Maybe the establishment will continue to be unimpressed with him and decide to spend their money elsewhere, on the assumption that turnout patterns will continue as before and they’d be wasting their money. Maybe Pena will vastly exceed expectations as a legislator and as a constituent service provider and will win re-election with or without establishment money. Who knows? The guy has a decent bio, and he has a chance to be an unconventional legislator, which is something we don’t see as much of as we once did. But there’s nothing unconventional about why he won.

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One Comment

  1. Manuel Barrera says:

    Guess he could just have stayed at home, like one Democrat did? The Democrat lost and Pena won? He was out walking and talking to people, I believe that may have made the difference in a couple of hundred votes.

    Fact is that the Democrats do not represent the majority of Harris County residents, they have gotten out of touch with people that traditionally would have tended vote for Democrats.

    I believe I saw an article here posing a question as to why are the Democrats not getting people out to vote here in Harris County.

    If Obama had not moved his executive action on immigration, until after the elections, Perez probably would have won. Elections are won normally by small percentages small percentages, but in Texas the blue is going in the wrong direction.

    2016 will be interesting if Clinton is the one at the top, because a lot of Latinos noticed her comments on immigration last year. I had intended to vote for her, but now will wait to see who the Republican is, I am a one issue voters often enough.

    I think that ACA will be the downfall of the Democratic candidate in 2016. Way too many people will be paying penalties for not having insurance, guess who those are?