KINGSVILLE, March 11 - State Rep. J.M. Lozano says he does not fear being defeated in the Republican primary due to racially polarized voting.
The Kingsville Republican is facing two Anglos in the GOP primary for the new-look Texas House District 43. They are businessmen Bill T. Wilson, II, of Portland, and Willie Vaden, of Ingleside.
District 43 has a 63 percent Hispanic and Black voting age population. In recent times, Anglos in Texas have largely voted Republican while Hispanics and Blacks have largely voted Democrat.
Asked if he feared losing in his primary due to racially polarized voting, Lozano attacked Democrats.
“One of the things I find unfortunate is that some of the leaders in the state Democrat Party immediately throw the race card. They say Hispanics are not welcome in the Republican Party; that Hispanics cannot win in a Republican primary. I know my community. I grew up here. I hate it when they immediately try to divide us based on race,” Lozano told the Guardian.
Lozano switched from the Democrats to the Republicans last week, soon after a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio issued a new interim Texas House map that radically changed the makeup of District 43.
The district now comprises four counties, Bee, San Patricio, Jim Wells and Kleberg. Kleberg is the only county remaining from the old District 43, which Lozano won for the first time in 2010.
Lozano lives in Kleberg County and grew up in neighboring Jim Wells County. According to data collated by the Texas Association of Counties, Jim Wells and Kleberg are different demographically to Bee and San Patricio.
Jim Wells’ population is 40,838 and is 79.0 percent Hispanic. Kleberg County’s population is 32,061 and is 70.2 percent Hispanic. Bee County’s population is 31,861, and is 56.2 percent Hispanic. San Patricio County’s population is 64,804 and is 54.4 percent Hispanic. Lozano’s two Republican challengers are from San Patricio County.
Lozano said it helps his chances that his two Republican challengers are from the largest county. “There is the potential that they will split the vote. Also, with three candidates in the race, there will be more dialogue. It will foster more communication in the campaign. I have no doubt I will prevail in the primary and the general,” he said.
To great fanfare, Lozano switched over to the GOP at a news conference at the Republican Party of Texas headquarters in Austin last Thursday. Among those in attendance were Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs and House Speaker Joe Straus.
In his speech at the news conference, Lozano recited an old Ronald Reagan phrase. “I did not leave the party, the party left me.” Lozano said he tried last session to change the direction the Democratic caucus in House. “To no avail,” he told the Guardian.
Abbott, who often tops polls as the most popular Republican in Texas, has promised to tour District 43 to boost Lozano’s primary campaign. Lozano is also hoping that George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, will tour the district. Lozano told the Guardian last week that George P. Bush helped persuade him to change parties.
Lozano said he is looking forward to the campaign, including making new friends in Bee and San Patricio counties.
“I have already walked San Pat a few blocks and I know the response I got. We are going to prove that notion wrong, that Hispanics cannot win in Republican primaries. We are going to prove it wrong, once and for all,” Lozano said.
Democrats do not rate Lozano’s chances of being re-elected, even though District 43 is now slightly more Republican than it was. They point out that many statewide Democratic candidates won the district in 2008.
“Between December, when Lozano filed to run in the Democratic primary and now, Republican presidential candidates have spewed some of the most anti-Latino rhetoric ever heard. This is reflected in the historically low poll numbers Republicans have among Latinos,” said Texas Democratic Party spokesman Anthony Gutierrez.
“Lozano’s embrace of that hostile rhetoric may get him some face-time with GOP celebrities but it also guarantees that he’ll never see another legislative session. No matter what he sold for to the GOP, we’re confident a Democrat will win that seat in November.”
The Democratic challenger is former state Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, D-Alice.
Lozano said he is trying to ignore Democrat jibes, referencing recent negative comments made by Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie.
“If that is all they have got, using the race card, and we prove them wrong, they are in trouble,” he said. “Boyd Richie... I am just ignoring all that. It is kind of disappointing that they are so extreme in their reaction, considering the fact they knew my voting record, they knew I was conservative.
“I think they are just afraid that the Hispanic community is going to start realizing that our values are clearly conservative and that the Democratic Party is becoming more Far Left, anti-oil and gas, pro-abortion. The Hispanic community will realize the Democratic Party no longer reflects their views and that their views are more aligned with the Republican Party.”
Lozano was asked for an explanation as to why top Hispanic Republicans like Xavier Rodriguez and Victor Carillo have gone down to defeat in statewide primary races in Texas. Railroad Commissioner Carillo was the establishment choice when he lost his re-election bid to the largely unknown David Porter, an Anglo accountant from Midland, in the 2010 Republican primary. Afterwards, Carillo blamed racially polarized voting for his defeat. Across the state, Porter won an average of 60 percent of the vote. In the four counties that make up District 43, Porter won 77 percent.
Lozano answered the question by again attacking Democrats.
“The Democrats look at the race, they do not look at the candidate and the campaign they ran. In most of those cases the candidates took it for granted. I am not like that at all. I am an extreme hard worker and I am not going to take anything for granted. I am going to prove them wrong and put that notion (of racially polarized voting in GOP primaries) to rest,” Lozano said.
“They (Democrats) cannot divide our communities on race anymore. They cannot use fear monger tactics any more. We are all in this together, regardless of race. There is that old saying, divide and conquer and that is what they are trying to do, to divide an electorate on race. That is undemocratic and un-American. I am going to prove them wrong and I look forward to it.”
Asked if any Democrats in District 43 had pledged to support his campaign, Lozano said: “I have had some people call me and tell me that they will. My response is, either way I need their support, if only in letting people know who I am as a person. When I tell them what our values are, they say yes, it is true, we are conservatives. We want to be able to say a prayer in our school. We want to be able to raise our children with strong, conservative, family values. We are pro-life.”
Lozano finished his interview by forecasting change in South Texas.
“It (Republican support among Hispanics) hasn’t really hit South Texas yet the way it has hit other parts of the country. But, I tell you, it is definitely on its way. The people will have more of a choice soon and that is the best possible outcome for our democracy.”