South Texas’ Henry Cuellar gets more liberal challenger in Democratic primary

by | Jun 13, 2019 | 2020 Elections, Politics

Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old lawyer from Laredo, announced her run for Congress this week against incumbent Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Cisneros is backed by Justice Democrats, the same progressive political action committee who supported Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her successful grassroots campaign in New York.

In her first campaign ad, Cisneros went after Cuellar directly, calling him “Trump’s favorite Democrat.”

She cites a FiveThirtyEight statistic showing the South Texas representative has voted in line with Trump’s position almost 70 percent of the time during the past congressional session.

“Here’s the truth, Henry Cuellar fights to protect Trump and the big corporations,” says Cisneros in the ad. “I’m fighting to end the separation of families, I’ll fight to pass a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal so that we can create jobs here at home.”

Colin Strother, a campaign spokesperson for Cuellar, said they welcomed Cisneros to the race and looked forward to comparing their respective backgrounds, qualifications and service to the district.

Responding to Cisneros’ attacks on Cuellar, Strother told the Texas Signal they “were written by a special interest group in New York City.”

“It’s a mischaracterization,” Strother said. “Henry Cuellar since the day he went to Congress in 2005 has always evaluated every bill based on if he thinks it’s in the best interest of his district or not.”

Strother said Cuellar’s bi-partisan lawmaking has allowed him to be effective regardless of who is in the White House. He said Cisneros platform doesn’t fit in with the politics of South Texas.

“This is not the Bronx, this is the border,” Strother said, referring to Ocasio’s congressional district.

The South Texas district is quite different than AOC’s New York district, the former being more culturally conservative.

Cuellar, who has represented San Antonio and South Texas for eight terms, has never been shy about his moderate positions that are now being challenged from the left. As such, in January, Justice Democrats labeled Cuellar their number one target ahead of the 2020 elections and vowed to recruit someone to challenge him.

Cisneros, who previously interned under Cuellar in Washington D.C., told the Laredo Morning Times she believes the region is ready for Justice Democrats-style politics.

“South Texas is its own district. We are placed in a very unique spot in terms of politics and also geographically, being right here on the border,” Cisneros said. “But fundamentally I think the big issues are being able to address things like poverty — the rampant poverty that we have here on the border — health care access and the jobs issue.” | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at

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