Court rejects state Rep. Art Fierro’s effort to rule Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez ineligible to challenge him in Democratic primary
UPDATE: 8:20 a.m. Jan. 8: The 8th Court of Appeals issued an order late Friday dismissing Rep. Art Fierro’s request for a writ of mandamus to remove Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez from the March 1 primary ballot.
A Texas appellate court ruled late Friday that state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez is eligible to run in the Democratic primary election for Texas House District 79, rebuffing an effort by incumbent state Rep. Art Fierro to remove her from the March 1 Democratic primary ballot.
Fierro claimed Ordaz Perez will not have resided in District 79 for the required one year prior to the Nov. 8 general election and six months before the Dec. 13, 2021, filing deadline. The El Paso County Democratic Party refused to declare Ordaz Perez ineligible, so Fierro took his removal effort to court.
Ordaz Perez’s current Texas House District 76 seat was drawn out of the new state legislative boundaries the Texas Legislature approved this fall. Her then-address became part of the redrawn Texas House District 77, held by state Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso.
No other Democratic or Republican candidates filed for the District 79 seat.
Reached Friday before the court ruling, Ordaz Perez called Fierro’s claim that she’s ineligible to run “frivolous” and “a desperate attempt” to cast doubt on her candidacy.
Fierro did not return a request for comment.
In his initial Dec. 30 petition to the state’s 8th Court of Appeals, Fierro argues Ordaz Perez is days short of meeting the one-year residency requirement for Texas of House Representatives candidates because it takes 30 days for a change of residence to take effect. Fierro sought a legal action known as a writ of mandamus, where an appeals court compels a public official — in this case El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Dora Oaxaca — to properly fulfill their duty.
But Oaxaca’s attorney, John Mobbs, disputed that argument. Fierro named Oaxaca in his petition because she did not reject Ordaz Perez’s application for a place on the ballot as he requested of Oaxaca two days after the filing deadline.
“Fierro simply has it backwards,” Mobbs’ filing states. “A person’s qualification to vote follows their residency, it does not establish their residence.”
“It is legally established that voter registration and voting records do not conclusively prove a candidate’s residence for purposes of evaluating eligibility for office,” the filing notes. “Moreover, the fact that a change to a voting registration record is not immediately effective does not establish that the voter is not a resident at their new address until the effective date of that change.”
The six-month residency requirement Fierro cites does not apply to candidates for state representative, Mobbs said.
In a response filed Friday before the court’s ruling, Fierro’s attorneys — Rene Ordoñez, Daniel Ordoñez and Jenée A. Durán — appeared to narrow their claim alleging that Ordaz Perez was ineligible. The response focused solely on a state Election Code provision establishing a six-month residency requirement before the filing deadline. It didn’t mention the earlier claim that Ordaz Perez does not meet the Texas Constitution requirement that a candidate reside in a district at least a year before the election.
The three justices on the appeals court unanimously agreed with Mobbs’ arguments, saying in a 10-page ruling ruling that “Ordaz Perez satisfied the constitutional residency requirement to run for House District 79, and the Election Code provision Fierro cites as an alternative basis for ineligibility does not apply to the office of state representative.”
The justices said the state law establishing the six-month residency requirement before a filing deadline applied to many offices, but not to state legislative seats. “In short, Ordaz Perez is not required to show she resided in-district for at least six months prior to the primary election filing deadline, only that she began her residence within the district one year immediately preceding the general election as required by the Texas Constitution,” the justices wrote in their ruling.
“I’m trying to figure out the real intent on why (Fierro) filed this and I can’t quite figure it out,” Ordaz Perez said. “He’s on the (House’s) elections committee and the law is pretty clear — I feel very confident about the case.
“The legal costs in all of this are very expensive. Are taxpayers going to have to foot this bill or is Art going to take on those costs when it comes back where it’s dismissed?”
Early voting for the March primaries begins Feb. 14.