EDINBURG, Texas – The voters of Congressional District 15 now know who the candidates will be in the Democratic Party primary runoff election. 

Attorney Ruben Ramirez and small business owner Michelle Vallejo will be on the ballot on the May 24 election. Republicans have already chosen their candidate for the November general election – Monica De la Cruz. 

CD 15 encompasses the western half of Hidalgo County, plus Brooks, Jim Wells, Karnes, Guadalupe, Live Oak and Wilson counties. The seat is open because the current officeholder, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, did not seek re-election. Instead, Gonzalez is running in neighboring Congressional District 34, which is where he resides. Under redistricting, the Texas Legislature placed his McAllen home in CD 34.

Following redistricting, CD 15 is considered a swing district. Last year, Republican lawmakers in Austin changed the boundaries to make it more competitive. In fact, if the 2020 presidential election votes were superimposed onto the new district, Donald Trump would have secured more votes in the district than Joe Biden. 

In the Democratic Party primary, none of the candidates secured the 50.1 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Ramirez won just over 28 percent of the vote. Vallejo won just over 20 percent of the vote. Third place went to attorney and small business owner John Villarreal Rigney. He picked up just over 19 percent of the vote. 

Ramirez’s remarks

Ramirez, a veteran and former teacher, thanked the voters of CD 15.

“It is an honor to have earned the trust of my neighbors and community today,” Ramirez said. “Throughout this campaign, we have seen a tremendous outpouring of support as we talked about the issues facing the community and the ways that our next member of Congress needs to rise to the occasion and deliver for our schools, our economy, and our neighborhoods. That grassroots movement has carried us through this primary, it will carry us through this runoff, and I am sure that it will carry our South Texas values of family, faith, community, and hard work to Washington D.C.”

One of the groups to endorse Ramirez was 314 Action Fund. Its president, Shaughnessy Naughton said: “Ruben Ramirez has consistently proven his commitment to standing up for Texans. As a former science teacher, Ruben knows that facts and evidence are essential to understanding and solving the problems facing our communities, from the climate crisis to affordable health care access. We look forward to fighting alongside him in this pro-science campaign for Texas families.”

Vallejo’s remarks

Vallejo, a community leader whose family owners the Los Portales pulga in Alton, thanked the voters of CD 15.

“I stepped into this race because I believe that South Texans deserve more — affordable health care, affordable college, better quality jobs, and investments that put people over profits. That’s what it’s going to take to get our economy back on track and keep our families safe,” Vallejo said.

“I come from a big family of farm workers, immigrants, and entrepreneurs. I know what it means to roll up my sleeves and work hard to deliver results to my community. South Texas needs a fresh voice in order to hold this seat in November, and I am honored to have the opportunity to keep fighting for our pueblo and the chance to fight to become the first woman to ever represent Texas’s 15th Congressional District. 

“Together, we are building a movement that is reclaiming the power of Latino voters in South Texas and we are going to prove to status quo politicians that our pueblo powered campaign can win in May and make history this November. ¡Vamos Por Quince!”

One of the groups to endorse Vallejo was LUPE Votes. In fact, the group publicly sought a candidate that was “bold and progressive” and Vallejo emerged as their first choice.

“Because of her courageous leadership to run for congress with an unapologetic Pueblo powered platform, Michelle now will have a shot at being the Democratic nominee for Congressional District 15 in the upcoming runoff election in May,” LUPE Votes said, in a news release. 

“Michelle represents a new brand of politics in South Texas, one that is not beholden to corrupt corporate interests, and isn’t afraid to take on politicians who constantly use our border community as their political playground and photo-op,” said Danny Diaz, director of LUPE Votes. 

“Every door we knock, every phone call we make, and every new voter we convince to go and vote is us building the infrastructure needed to change politics in South Texas long term.” 

Villarreal Rigney’s remarks

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Villarreal Rigney said he is proud of the race he ran. He said he expected to get to the runoff but, perhaps, underestimated the mood of voters in the northern part of the district. 

Ramirez won in Hidalgo and Brooks counties. Vallejo won in Jim Wells, Karnes and Guadalupe counties. And Vanessa Tijerina, who came in fifth overall, won in Live Oak and Wilson counties. 

John Villarreal Rigney

“I beat Michelle comfortably in the Valley but those counties up north, I guess they are a little more progressive. It looks like they lean towards the progressive women vote, or something,” Villarreal Rigney said. 

Asked if he did as well as expected, Villarreal Rigney said: “Unfortunately not. I thought I would make the runoff for sure. I underestimated, I guess, the voter turnout in the northern counties, which proved to be, I guess, a little more liberal than I am. They figured out there was a better candidate for them than me.”

Villarreal Rigney said he was also hampered by joining the race late. He had been expected to run for a judicial position.

“I was definitely behind the pack, so, based on the start I had I think I did extremely well. I am proud of the race I ran. I am proud of the people that stood behind me, my supporters in the Valley. I think it showed. I did place second in the Valley and I think the closing of the polling locations in the western part of Hidalgo County hurt my campaign. I believe I was pretty strong in the west. I think that due to the closures, I think I lost a bunch of votes that may have made a difference in the campaign and in the results,” Villarreal Rigney said.

“But, I am proud of the race I ran. I thank all of my voters and my supporters and I am looking forward to what comes next.”

Asked what his supporters said to him once the election was over, Villarreal Rigney said: “Everyone has said I ran a good, clean race. They said, ‘congratulations, you ran a good clean race, you did not resource to dirty politics or anything like that.’ Everyone has been positive, congratulating me. And I have been proud of that.”

Asked what the highlight of the primary election was, Villarreal Rigney said: “I have met so many good people, business men and women, supporters. Even some people who did not support me. So many nice people that I otherwise would not have met. So, the outpouring of support has been great.”

Asked what the low point of the primary election was, Villarreal Rigney said: “Just that some of the other candidates decided to go low and get a little dirty. I really wish that would not have happened. I think overall it was a very clean and civilized race. I am happy with what happened.”

Villarreal Rigney said he has not yet decided who he will endorse in the runoff. “I think it is a little bit early to say who I will support. Both parties have reached out to me for endorsements. It is open for consideration.”

Asked about his future plans for public service, Villarreal Rigney said: “I think I will seek election to a judicial bench, either on a county court or a district court.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story has been slightly revamped. In its original form we said U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, had “moved” to Congressional District 34. In fact, the Texas Legislature drew his McAllen home into CD 34. Thousands of residents on the eastern side of Hidalgo County that used to be in CD 15 have also been drawn into CD 34.

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