In a remarkable display of support, progressive advocacy groups that work on a broad range of issues from education, to women’s health care and reproductive rights, to the environment, to LGBTQ equality coalesced behind Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a Democratic candidate for Texas Senate District 27, in a press conference on Tuesday.
These eight groups — Texas Freedom Network’s TFN PAC, Annie’s List, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas PAC, Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Sierra Club, Equality Texas’ Equity PAC, and Human Rights Campaign PAC — have all endorsed Stapleton-Barrera, a 36-year-old Latina mother, constitutional lawyer, and former teacher from Brownsville.
Representatives from each organization, all women and many of whom are constituents of Senate District 27, spoke in support of Stapleton-Barrera while denouncing 30-year incumbent state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. as being anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, anti-public schools, and anti-environment.
Multiple speakers also noted the incumbent’s persistent absence from the district, and his refusal to meet with constituents, groups, and activists who are demanding change.
“I have tried repeatedly to meet with Sen. Lucio at his in-district office, as well as his office in the Texas State Capitol, and I have never been able to say that I’ve ever seen his face in person,” said Aileen Garza, the Rio Grande Valley youth community organizer for Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC. “I honestly think this is failed leadership. Lucio is not working for the people of his district, he is only working to benefit himself.”
Another group representative, Denisce Palacios, a campus organizer for Texas Rising and TFN PAC and Rio Grande Valley native, told a story of Lucio and his staff closing his Brownsville office early to avoid meeting with a group of constituents advocating for youth issues. “Just like he’s done before, Sen. Lucio’s response was to shut us out,” Palacios said.
“While many people in our group can’t say that they’ve met their state senator, we can definitely say that we’ve met our next state senator,” Palacios noted about the contrast between Lucio’s expedient dodging and Stapleton-Barrera’s openness to meeting with advocacy groups and future constituents. “Sara, unlike Sen. Lucio, is a true progressive champion who will go to Austin to fight for young voters in the Valley and the issues that we care about — LGBTQ equality, reproductive healthcare access, and public education.”
Lucio, who has previously landed on Texas Monthly’s worst legislators list and is the only Democrat endorsed by a conservative super PAC funded by the Koch brothers, has often been the sole Democrat to lend his support to controversial Republican-led legislation in the senate chamber.
In the past three years, Lucio was the only Democrat to vote for the anti-transgender “bathroom bill,” which would have imposed discriminatory penalties for transgender Texans choosing to use a public restroom that corresponds with their gender identity; the only Democrat to vote for an anti-abortion bill to prohibit state and local governments from partnering with agencies that perform abortions; and the only Democrat to vote for the “Save Chick-fil-A bill,” a religious liberty bill that would permit LGBTQ discrimination. He further authored an anti-abortion bill that mandated providers distribute pamphlets detailing abortion alternatives to women seeking the procedure.
“Lucio has always been the extremists right’s trusted vote when it comes to attacking abortion access, reproductive healthcare, and LGTBQ rights,” said Aimee Arrambide, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas PAC. “It’s time for new leadership and a real progressive to represent the RGV. That person is Sara Stapleton-Barrera.”
In another salient break from his Democratic colleagues, Lucio has backed school vouchers, once proposed a new school voucher program, and supports corporate charter schools. School vouchers and charter schools divert a critical financial stream away from public school classrooms. Moreover, the group of progressive allies contend that Lucio has been detrimental to the environment of his district.
“Sen. Lucio has time and time again shared his vision for the Rio Grande Valley, which includes more oil, more gas, more pollution, and not caring about the welfare and safety of the people he’s supposed to represent,” said Martha Peña, the Vice-Chair of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Executive Committee and a Rio Grande Valley native. “Sara has a vision for the future for us that does include more jobs, more opportunity, that includes the Rio Grande Valley being a leader of Texas in renewable clean jobs, that can support people after generation.”
Stapleton-Barrera, who is running on a platform to advocate for working families, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community, finished her three-way primary with 35.6 percent to Lucio’s 49.8 percent.
Surmounting Lucio’s lead in the runoff election comes with precedent. In 2006, former seven-term Republican incumbent Rep. Henry Bonilla, who represented the southwestern Texas-Mexico border, was defeated by Ciro Rodriguez after winning an initial runoff by 48.1 percent to Rodriguez’s 20.3 percent. In 2018, then Cameron County Commissioner Alex Dominguez defeated René Oliveira, a 17-term Texas House incumbent representing Brownsville, after entering a runoff with just 36.4 percent to Oliveira’s 48.5 percent.
If victorious, Stapleton-Barrera would be the first female senator to represent Senate District 27, and the youngest member of the chamber. She also, these progressive groups argue, would be the first true Democrat to represent the district in more than three decades.
“It’s become common practice for the Republican party to look for Sen. Lucio when needing a Democratic stamp of approval,” Stapleton-Barrera said of her opponent’s record. “Unlike Sen. Lucio, I’m ready to take on [Gov.] Abbott and [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick on their harmful agenda that put the lives of women, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants at risk.”
Early voting for the runoff in Texas will continue until July 10, and election day is July 14.
Photo: Sara Stapleton-Barrera campaign