BROWNSVILLE, RGV – As the result came in for the Texas House District 37 runoff election, Texas Municipal League lobbyist Snapper Carr’s history lesson proved spot on.
At a TML annual summer meeting on South Padre Island recently, Carr explained to Region 12 members that incumbents rarely win runoffs in Texas.
In fact, only three incumbents have won in the last 28 runoff attempts, Carr said. Two Texas House incumbents lost on Tuesday evening, one of them being state Rep. René Oliveira. So, the trend continues.
Carr, who represents the needs of local governments before the Texas Legislature and helps private-sector clients understand and navigate local government processes, did not speak directly about the Oliveira-Dominguez race. Rather, he was giving an overview on what happens in runoff elections in Texas.
“In an open seat that is pushed to a runoff, it is often a tossup,” Carr told TML members from Region 12. “Incumbents, though, just by the numbers, do not fare well. In the last 28 elections, where an incumbent has been pushed to a runoff, the record is three and 25. That is a very significant situation for incumbents.”
Oliveira had held Brownsville-based District 37 since 1981. He was the fifth longest-serving member of the Texas House of Representatives and dean of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation. One of his proudest achievements was filing legislation to establish UT-Rio Grande Valley and its four-year school of medicine.
His challenger, Alex Dominguez, has been Cameron County Commissioner for Precinct 2 since June 2014. A Brownsville native, Dominguez is a criminal defense attorney and former educator.
District 37 includes Brownsville, South Padre Island, Port Isabel, Los Fresnos, and Rio Hondo.
Unofficial totals show Dominguez capturing almost 57 percent of the vote, with 3,287 votes. Oliveira picked up 43 percent of the vote, with his 2,509 votes.
“It is disappointing, obviously. We worked very hard. I have got to thank all the groups that supported me, some of these firefighters right here behind me, and everybody who worked so hard. Sometimes things have to end and if this is the way it is going to be then so be it,” Oliveira told Channel 4, at his election watch party.
Dominguez took on Oliveira in 2012 but lost. Asked about that by Channel 4, Dominguez said: “It is kind of like Rocky 2, I suppose. Rocky won the second one.”
Asked what he is going to do next, Dominguez said: “There are a couple of things we are going to do first. First, I still have seven months as a county commissioner. I still have a few projects I want to finish up here, to get them ready for the next county commissioner to take over. We are going to be having some town hall meetings in June so that people can come and talk to me and I can hear their ideas on how to improve District 37.”
Asked by Channel 4 if he would reach out to Oliveira to ensure a smooth transition, Dominguez said: “I am not a proud person. I don’t mind asking him for help. But, I will also be asking the other legislators from this area, including Senator Lucio’s office.”
In an interview with Channel 5, Oliveira said: “We are disappointed. But, I put this thing in God’s hands several weeks ago. We worked hard. We did our best. We had amazing support from so many people. But, everything has to end and this chapter in my life is ending and new chapters are beginning. I accept it. I am ready to move on. I hope people will remember the legacy of my 34 years of work and the results and the things we brought to Brownsville and the Valley.”
As he mentioned “new chapters” Oliveira looked at his granddaughter, he was holding in his arms.
Dominguez told Channel 5: “We took on an incumbent that had tons of money. It seemed an almost unlimited amount. I would say he spent around $400,000 in this race. Most of my race was self-funded aside from some donations here in the community. We feel good because this shows our campaign was grassroots-based and the community was really involved and really behind us.”
Asked what he plans to do next, Dominguez said: “I am still the county commissioner until December 31 so I still have a lot of county work I have to do. Aside from that I want to start my first town hall meetings. We will probably put out the first schedule at the end of this week so I can have members of the community sit down with me and tell me what they want, their priorities to be when I go up to Austin.”
Dominguez may have been referring to Oliveira’s recent DWI arrest when he added: “It showed that people pay attention, character matters and that we need to be on top of our game every day of the week, 24/7.”
Oliveira got the endorsement of the Save RGV from LNG group just a day before the runoff election. The group is opposed to liquefied natural gas export terminals being built at the Port of Brownsville. The group did not like the fact that as a county commissioner, Dominguez voted to give Rio Grande LNG a tax break of $373 million.
Save RGV from LNG’s John Young said: “We will continue to challenge the claims that LNG is good, all good, no bad and the regulatory loopholes that allow the bad to be dismissed as speculative, hypothetical, unknowable, fixable, manageable, and/or acceptable.”
With Oliveira’s defeat, state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City becomes the dean of the Valley’s legislative delegation in the Texas House. Guillen, like Dominguez and Oliveira, is a Democrat. He was first elected in 2002.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Alex Dominguez.