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Glenda Dawson

Succeeding Sen. Gallegos

With the posthumous victory by Sen. Mario Gallegos, there is still one unsettled matter for 2012 in Texas.

Sen. Mario Gallegos

Mario Gallegos, one of the Texas Senate’s most reliable liberals until his death last month, scored a final win Tuesday, easily defeating his Republican challenger after his name remained on the ballot.

Beleaguered Texas Democrats also withstood a spirited, well-funded challenge to Sen. Wendy Davis in the Fort Worth area. Nevertheless, Republicans will retain control of the Senate with a 19-12 advantage when it convenes in January.

The GOP targeted the Davis seat in an attempt to pull within a single vote of an unbreakable two-thirds majority. The Senate operates under a rule that requires the agreement of at least 21 senators for any bill to be brought up for debate during a regular session.

[…]

Gallegos, the first Hispanic elected to the state Senate from Harris County, died last month from complications of liver disease. Under Texas law, his name remained on the ballot because he died less than 74 days before the election.

Voters rallied around his candidacy, handing the longtime lawmaker a victory over Republican R.W. Bray in the heavily Democratic District 6, which covers east Harris County. The win by a dead incumbent was not unprecedented – in 2006, state Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland, was re-elected two months after dying from a brief illness.

Cynthia Gallegos, his youngest sister, said she had worked at polls all day and repeatedly answered the big question from people: Why vote for the late senator?

“Every person who came up to me was like, ‘Didn’t he die?’ ” she said. “I would bite my lip and explain the process. We want to keep the district Democratic.”

With the posthumous win by Gallegos, Gov. Rick Perry will declare the seat vacant and call for a special election to be held within 45 days, on a Tuesday or Saturday.

Possible Democratic candidates include state Rep. Carol Alvarado and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. At a victory party for Gallegos on Tuesday, Alvarado said she would wait a few days to discuss her plans.

“Tonight is about Mario, to savor his victory,” she said of the former firefighter who served 22 years in the state Legislature.

The win by Sen. Davis removes any incentive Rick Perry may have had to drag his feet on calling a special election to fill the vacancy in SD06. Which doesn’t mean he’ll snap to it, just that the practical effect in the Senate is minimized. If Rep. Alvarado runs and wins, there would then need to be another special election in HD145. I was going to say we’re getting way ahead of ourselves, but then this happened.

The morning after his posthumous victory party, the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, got his dying wish when his choice to succeed him announced her intention to seek the seat he held since 1994.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, who was re-elected to her House seat without opposition Tuesday, announced her candidacy for the Senate seat in an email Wednesday.

[…]

Alvarado is expected to formally announce her candidacy at an event with members of Gallegos’ family on Monday.

Here’s the email. All I know is that I like both Rep. Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia, and I’m glad I was redistricted out of SD06 so I don’t have to choose between them. In the meantime, I salute Sen. Gallegos and his family for his life and his service, and once Perry gives the go-ahead I look forward to a worthy successor being elected to fill his seat in Austin.

More on Sen. Gallegos

For better or worse, we must discuss the politics of Sen. Mario Gallegos’ death this week. The first question to address is what happens next?

Sen. Mario Gallegos

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Hope Andrade, this morning clarified the timing of a special election in state Senate District 6 if the late Mario Gallegos Jr. wins re-election posthumously.

Gallegos, 62, a Houston Democrat and retired firefighter, died Tuesday from complications of a liver transplant several years ago.

Explained Parsons:

Gallegos’s name cannot be removed from the November general election ballot because it is within 74 days of the election. If he wins on election day, the seat will be declared officially vacant, and Gov. Rick Perry will call an expedited special election to fill it.

It must be held within 21-45 days after Perry calls for the election, officials said, meaning the special election would be held sooner than the May date that Houston officials said late Tuesday was expected.

Gallegos is on the ballot with Republican R.W. Bray, who is considered a long-shot. If Bray should be elected, he will take the seat.

Here’s the relevant statute for why Sen. Gallegos will remain on the ballot. We had a similar situation in 2006 when State Rep. Glenda Dawson passed away in September. As was the case with Rep. Dawson, I fully expect Sen. Gallegos to win re-election and thus trigger a special election to replace him. The real question is when will that special election be? The Trib notes the math.

It’s not a swing district. President Obama got 63.5 percent of the vote in 2008. Republican Gov. Rick Perry got 31 percent in 2010. It’s not a race the Democrats were sweating.

[…]

Bray would be the 20th Republican in the 31-member Senate. If Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth were to lose her hotly contested re-election race, Republican Mark Shelton would become the 21st Republican. That’s consequential: Under current rules, it takes consent from two-thirds of the senators to bring up legislation for consideration. With 21 senators, the Republicans would have two-thirds and, on partisan bills, enough votes to disregard the Democrats.

Here are the relevant laws for filling the office of a state legislator who has died. While I expect Sen. Gallegos to defeat Bray (a former staffer of CM Helena Brown, if you’re wondering where you heard that name before), it becomes critical if Sen. Wendy Davis does not win. If Sen. Gallegos wins re-election, then the Democrats will continue to have at least 11 Senators, which is enough for them to block legislation via the two thirds rule, or whatever is left of it when the Senate adopts its rules for the session. At least, they will have that many once the special election is settled, which if it is indeed expedited should be well before any serious votes come up. The important thing if you live in SD06 is that you still have a responsibility to vote for Sen. Gallegos.

At least, that’s how it would be until the special election is held to replace Sen. Gallegos, assuming that he wins in November. But here’s the thing – Rick Perry isn’t required to call the special election until the next uniform election date, which will be in May. Given the near certainty of a runoff in what will be a multi-candidate race, that means that SD06 would go unrepresented for the entire session. Which would be mighty convenient for the Republicans.

Now, Governor Perry does have the discretion to call an expedited election. That’s what he did in the case of Rep. Dawson – the special election to fill her seat came six weeks after the November election, with the ensuing runoff a month later, in plenty of time for all the action of that session. This stands in contrast to his actions in 2005, following the tragic death of State Rep. Joe Moreno, who was killed in an auto accident towards the end of the regular session. Perry called for the special election to replace him in November, despite subsequently calling two special sessions in the interim. What choice do you think he’ll make?

I know it’s distasteful to talk about this while we’re all still grieving the loss of Sen. Gallegos, but I know I’m not saying anything out loud that isn’t being said in private. We may as well be prepared for what is to come.

In the meantime, here are some more tributes to Sen. Gallegos, from Marc Campos, Stace Medellin, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Lone Star Project, and beneath the fold from SEIU Local 1.

UPDATE: Here’s information on the memorial services in Austin and Houston for Sen. Gallegos.

UPDATE: I clearly misread that Postcards story when I first saw it, and as such it renders my speculation moot. The election will take place earlier than May in the event Sen. Gallegos wins, and that’s what matters. All Democrats in SD06 need to remember that they must still vote for Sen. Gallegos so that they can then choose a proper successor. I apologize for the confusion.

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