Updated 11:04 a.m. Nov 2: This story has been updated with comment from state Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, who is endorsing Ordaz Perez.
State Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez, D-El Paso, announced Monday she is running for reelection in a different Texas House district after Republican lawmakers redrew her current district to represent another part of the state.
She will run in House District 79, where she will face Democratic incumbent Art Fierro, who has said he is seeking a third term. The 2022 primary election is in March.
“It’s really time to clean house to those who give in and fail to fight for the people of El Paso,” Ordaz Perez said at an announcement event held at a bar and grill in District 79. “El Paso has been plagued with ineffective legislators — they like the title but they don’t do the work, and that needs to change.”
The Texas Legislature’s redistricting process reduced El Paso County’s Texas House seats to four, as El Paso did not have the population growth after the 2020 census to sustain the five seats it has had since the 1980s. Lawmakers redrew House District 77, held by Democrat Lina Ortega since 2017, so it now includes parts of Ordaz Perez’s District 76. Ordaz Perez was elected to her seat in 2020.
The redrawn House map takes effect in January, unless a judge intervenes. Various Latino advocacy groups are challenging the state’s new political maps for intentionally diluting the voting strength of Blacks and Latinos, who were responsible for the majority of the state’s population growth.
Ordaz Perez said it was never a question that she wouldn’t challenge Ortega, even though she said her own campaign analysis showed she would have an easier chance unseating Ortega than Fierro because the new District 77 boundaries include most of District 76.
The El Paso delegation joined Texas House Democrats in Washington, D.C., when they fled Austin during the first special legislative session to deny the Republican majority the ability to pass a voting bill Democrats said would adversely affect minorities. Ordaz Perez and Ortega stayed outside Austin even after the rest of their El Paso colleagues returned to the House floor. The bill eventually passed and was signed into law.
“It’s no coincidence that the two representatives that did not waiver on voting rights, we did not come back voluntarily (from the quorum break) … that we were paired,” Ordaz Perez said.
“It’s what Austin does, it’s a punishment, and so I refuse to give in to it. We don’t have enough women representation as it is.”
Ordaz Perez said while she outwardly had the support of El Paso’s House delegation in trying to keep five El Paso-based seats, “I don’t really know what happened behind closed doors.”
She first signaled she would move to District 79 rather than run for the new District 77 when she changed her voter registration address last month to the home in the Pebble Hills neighborhood where her parents live. She said Monday she “intends to live on the East Side” rather than her current Lower Valley residence.
Fierro previously said the change caught him by surprise.
Reached Monday, he said Ordaz Perez is doing exactly what Democrats fought against during redistricting. “She’s seeking out her constituents,” he said.
On Tuesday Ortega endorsed Ordaz Perez.
“Claudia is a natural bridge builder. From the beginning of her freshman term, I saw her work across the aisle with our Republican colleagues to negotiate legislation to improve outcomes for El Pasoans,” Ortega said in a statement.
“As a freshman, Claudia had the integrity and courage to fight against attacks on voting rights. Her efforts advocating alongside Democrats who stayed in Washington has helped move federal legislation forward to protect voting rights of all citizens.”
As to whether she’ll seek the support of other members of El Paso’s legislative delegation, Ordaz Perez said she will accept it if offered.
“I know this is just awkward and we don’t want this to be as divisive as possible. I’m not trying to put anyone in that predicament,” she said.
Fierro said he will “absolutely” seek his colleagues’ endorsement, adding “and I trust that I will get it.”
Cover photo: Claudia Ordaz Perez, who currently represents Texas House District 76, greets supporters at Undisputed Craft House on Nov. 1, where she announced her candidacy for House District 79. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)