The Socorro Mission was built with adobe, a material widely used for building in the Southwest for thousands of years. (Corrie Boudreaux)

State Rep. Mary González, who in 10 years has risen to the position of vice chair of the Texas House Appropriation Committee, touted the gains she has made for District 75 and her powerful voice as an advocate for education and social justice as she seeks a sixth term.

First elected in 2012, González, D-Clint, is the second-most senior member of El Paso’s legislative delegation. She was unsuccessfully challenged in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Democratic primaries and unopposed in the 2020 primary.

This primary she faces Rene Rodriguez, a former city of Socorro alderperson.

“Being a leader in the budget process in those closed door meetings is extremely important for us as a community,” González said of her role on the appropriations committee, which is tasked with building the state’s two-year $248 billion budget.

“(It) is a significant position in the Texas Legislature and a huge step forward for all El Paso.”

District 75 encompasses the easternmost edges of El Paso, along with Horizon City, Socorro, San Elizario, Clint, Fabens and Tornillo.

State Rep. Mary González

A longtime member of the House Public Education Committee, González, 38, has made education a central part of her legislative efforts and her professional life. She defended her dissertation during the 2019 legislative session, a period that she described as a lesson on perseverance.

“Less than half of 1% of Latinas get a PhD. And I know what it means for my family for me to finish, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. González completed her doctorate in 2019 from the Cultural Studies in Education program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Rodriguez, 48, who owns Pinnacle Collision Center in El Paso, is critical of González, who he said has “done nothing” for the district.

“She was always MIA,” Rodriguez said, pointing to issues with floodwaters and spotty internet service in school districts as areas where he thought she should have done more. “Those are things that a representative should represent, not just give turkeys when it’s convenient for a photoshoot,” he said.

González called his criticisms baseless, pointing to state and federal funds she secured for area schools and stormwater needs.

“I worked really hard to build coalitions to create awareness about what schools needs were, so they could have the resources necessary,” she said, highlighting a new $34.5 million flood control program in Socorro for which she helped appropriate funds.

Rodriguez was also critical of Gonzalez’s decision to join other Texas Democrats in leaving the state last summer, an exodus intended to break quorum in the legislature and derail Republican legislation that would impose heightened restrictions on voting access.

“We’re elected by the people at (District) 75,” Rodriguez said. “How productive are you if you just walk away because the party tells you to do something?”

The quorum break caused fissures among Texas Democrats, with some prominent leaders declaring their support for the effort, including gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. representative Beto O’Rourke, while some were divided on how long to remain out of state. It led to fallout including state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, being relieved of his position as House speaker pro tem, and continues to have an impact on other local primary races, including that of House District 79, where two incumbents are running against each other.

“Leaving the state of Texas and leaving home is not a decision that we took lightly,” González told El Paso Matters in August, shortly after leaving the state. “It was literally the last opportunity we had to protect the most important right we have as a democracy, which is voting.”

Rene Rodriguez

Rodriguez said his approach to civic life is informed by the challenges he has faced in life — a second chance he got that he believes all people should receive. As a teen, he was charged with burglary of habitation, which was adjudicated from his record after doing probation and paying a restitution fee.

“I got my second opportunity and I changed my life,” he said. “I’m a productive member of society, I got my education, I got my bachelor’s (degree), I have my own company. And I ran for office and I got elected.”

Rodriguez was the alderperson-at-large for the city of Socorro from 2013 to 2020. In 2021 he unsuccessfully sought reelection to represent District 1 on the Socorro City Council, a campaign effort that he said was impacted by the death of his brother.

“I couldn’t take it emotionally,” he said. “I walked away from my campaign.”

After having time to grieve, Rodriguez’s commitment to civic duty was renewed. He said he is prepared for the task of statewide office because of his city council experience and the lessons he’s learned as a business owner.

“The decisions you make with an employee, it’s the same thing as the decisions you’re gonna take in politics,” he said. “Are you gonna harm your residents of District 75, or are you gonna make policies, or vote on policies, that are gonna better their lives?”

Rodriguez said he put $1,000 into his campaign and has not received any other donations. He missed the campaign finance filing deadline but said he is in the process of filing and will pay the late fee.

González reported raising over $55,000 in political contributions between July 1, 2021 and Jan. 20, 2022. Among her largest donors were the Texas Automotive Dealers Association ($3,000), the Chickasaw Nation ($2,500), Louisiana-based education company NOLA LLC ($2,500) and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association ($2,500). Highest individual contributions came from Texas Court Reporters Association lobbyists Amy and Steve Bresnan ($1,000), lobbyists Janet and Joel Trace Findley ($1,000), and lobbyist and former policy analyst Jeffrey Heckler ($1,000).

Early voting for the primaries runs from Feb. 14 through Feb. 25 and the primary election is March 1.

Cover photo: The Socorro Mission in November 2021. (Corrie Boudreaux)

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.