Divisions among Texas House Democrats were clear in recent campaign contributions to the two candidates running for East El Paso’s House District 79.
State Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez, who is vying to unseat Rep. Art Fierro in the March 1 Democratic primary, brought in almost $10,000 from nine Democratic state lawmakers representing districts as far away as Beaumont.
Fierro’s sole contribution from a sitting lawmaker came from state Rep. Joe Moody, the senior-most member of El Paso’s legislative delegation, who gave $2,500.
Ordaz Perez received support from lawmakers she grew close with in Washington, D.C., where a majority of House Democrats traveled last summer in an effort to block Republicans from passing new voting restrictions.
Divisions emerged within the Texas House Democratic Caucus over how long to remain in the nation’s capital: those who donated to Ordaz Perez were among the final holdouts in the quorum break. Meanwhile, El Paso Democrats Mary González, Moody and Fierro were some of the first to return to Texas, restoring quorum to the state’s legislative chambers.
“It’s important we elect Democrats that are willing to stand strong for our constituents,” state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, tweeted Wednesday in response to a Twitter post highlighting the financial support Ordaz Perez received from her House colleagues.
Deshotel was one of seven members of the Texas House Progressive Caucus, of which Ordaz Perez is treasurer, who together donated $5,650. The others were state Reps. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, Ramon Romero of Fort Worth, Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, and Gina Hinojosa, Celia Israel and Eddie Rodriguez of Austin.
That caucus formed days after the quorum break as an alternative voice to the Texas House Democratic Caucus.
Ordaz Perez said that chapter of the unusually-long 87th Texas Legislature will “absolutely” shape who is elected to District 79.
“This was the most conservative session in Texas’ history and when I’m having conversations (with voters), I talk about the ramifications of what this meant for El Paso,” Ordaz Perez said Wednesday. “It’s so imperative to have effective leadership.”
Beyond the new Texas elections law, which added requirements for mail-in ballot applications, she pointed to laws allowing permitless handgun carry and restricting abortion access.
Fierro said voters understand why he returned to Austin after the conclusion of the first special session.
“We left (for Washington) with three goals: to break quorum one session, bring national attention to the bad voter bill, and to light a fire under Senate and Congress (about federal voting rights legislation),” Fierro said. “And after we accomplished all three of those goals, some of us returned to do our job.”
Democrats could not have stayed away forever because Gov. Greg Abbott was going to keep calling special sessions until the House had a quorum, Fierro said.
District 79 constituents he’s spoken with during door-knocking are “grateful” the delegation was able to keep El Paso International Airport and Fort Bliss within District 79’s boundaries during redistricting negotiations, he said.
The redrawing of the state’s political maps was the last item lawmakers took up before the Legislature adjourned for the year. The redistricting process left El Paso with one less House member, as the county’s slowing growth rate made it difficult to maintain five seats within county lines.
Ordaz Perez has maintained that Republican lawmakers drew her seat into state Rep. Lina Ortega’s District 77 as punishment for their extended quorum break.
Instead of challenging Ortega to remain in her district, Ordaz Perez moved to the home where she lived when first elected to El Paso City Council in 2014, in order to run against Fierro. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get a judge to remove her from the primary ballot, arguing she was ineligible to run for that seat.
Ortega donated $1,000 to Ordaz Perez’s campaign. Ordaz Perez also received $3,000 from state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, another quorum breaker slow to return to Austin.
Fierro received $250 from former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, on Nov. 1, the day Ordaz Perez officially announced her campaign for District 79. Shapleigh also donated $250 to each candidate over the summer.
Fierro raised a little more than $33,600 from July through Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports due Tuesday. Of that, close to $8,000 came from Texas-based and national political action committees, with the largest such donation — $2,500 — coming from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC.
The Tigua Indian Reservation also gave him $2,500, as did Randall Bowling, president of Tropicana Homes.
Ordaz Perez reported nearly $24,000 raised during the same time frame, $3,000 of which came from two political action committees: Exelon Corporation PAC, an energy company, and Texas State Farm Agents PAC.
Her largest contribution came from Jorge Perez, her father-in-law, who donated $3,000.
Moody, Ortega and González are also up for reelection this November, but only González drew a March primary challenger for the Clint-area District 75 seat.
González reported raising about $39,400 from July through December 2021 — more than half of which came from state and national PACs. She also received $500 from former state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.
Her challenger, former Socorro City Council member Rene Rodriguez, has not filed a report.
Early voting for the primaries begins Feb. 14.
This story has been updated to include contributions from former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh to both candidates.