State Sen. Roland Gutierrez says he’s the “populist and pugilist” that Texas Democrats need if they’re going to oust Ted Cruz from the U.S. Senate in 2024.

“Democrats are sometimes considered too nice. Republicans, they play a real war game with us. Unfortunately, their war of words has turned into people getting hurt. We saw that in Uvalde, and we’ve seen it on the border, and we’ve seen it in other parts of this state. We saw it when the grid failed,” he said in an interview with El Paso Matters. 

Gutierrez will make his first campaign visit to El Paso on Sunday, Sept. 24. He’ll be at the El Paso Firefighters Hall, 3112 Forney Lane, from 3-7 p.m.

The San Antonio native served in the Texas House from 2009 to 2021, and has served in the state Senate since 2021. 

Gutierrez was thrust into national prominence by the May 24, 2022, mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, which is in his Senate district. He was critical of the police response to the shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers, and has blasted state Republican leaders for failure to reform gun laws.

“As you started to really dig deep down into Uvalde, it wasn’t just the horror of that gun violence. It was the complete and utter failure of government. They failed those kids. They failed those teachers. They failed that community. For 77 minutes, brave little children waited in that room to be rescued by cops that were too cowardly,” Gutierrez said.

He said he was inspired to run for the Senate by parents of slain Uvalde students who have pushed for answers and gun reforms. He said he favors a “common sense” approach to gun laws.

“We’ve got to raise the age limit to 21 on access to those types of weapons,” Gutierrez said of high powered semi-automatic rifles. “We’ve got to do extreme risk protective orders and background checks. And most Republicans agree with me on that. And I own guns. I’m not trying to take anybody’s guns away, but we have to have a discussion on AR-15s, maybe with some exceptions for agriculture.”

He said his campaign will also focus on “kitchen table” issues such as jobs, wages, health care costs and access to education.  

Gutierrez said he favors an overhaul of immigration laws, something he said fellow Democrats are often too timid to address. 

“We need a program that’s going to fix the 12 or 13 million migrants that are here right now, that have been here for 30 years. Give them a pathway to residency. Give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship right away. Fix the entire alphabet soup of visas,” he said.

Gutierrez said the current influx of migrants needs new approaches that would allow people to fill jobs in the United States by applying in their own countries.

“Go to the American consulate. Go to a Department of Labor kiosk. Go apply for a job in Omaha or Cibolo, Texas, or wherever. Go apply for a meat packing job or whatever it is, do a background check, and then through that whole process, in 90 days, you’ll be in the United States under my program because we need 30 million laborers for jobs that Americans simply don’t want,” he said.

Gutierrez said Democrats have a chance to unseat Cruz, who has held the seat since 2013, if they have the right candidate. 

“I’m going to punch Ted Cruz in the nose on every one of those issues, and I’m even going to mock him a little bit. I’m going to do that because where I’m from, no man’s going to insult my wife or my father and get away with it and then get an endorsement after that. And that’s what he did with Donald Trump,” he said.

Cruz’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Gutierrez is one of several Democrats who said they’ll seek their party’s nomination in the March 5, 2024, primary. He said he expects that Colin Allred, a North Texas congressman, will raise more money than he will. Gutierrez said he will benefit by being able to relate to the large number of Hispanic voters in the Democratic primary.

“There’s plenty of Hispanics out there, and that’s a challenge for Colin, for sure. My challenge is he’s got all the money and we’re doing okay ourselves. We just kind of keep going forward,” he said. 

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.