Brownsville attorney Erin Gamez is the latest Democratic lawmaker to be sworn into the Texas House.
Gamez won her seat in a special election primary after State Rep. Eddie Lucio III stepped down in January. Since no Republican filed to run, Gamez automatically won the seat after receiving more than 50 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
It was Gamez’s second attempt at representing Texas House District 38. In 2020, Gamez ran against Lucio III but fell short 8 percentage points in the Democratic primary.
“We had a tough race, we learned a lot,” Gamez said of her campaign for “youthful change” in the district, which had been represented by Lucio III since 2007.
“We were nothing but civil and cordial to one another, and I respect him for that and I appreciate him for that,” Gamez said.
Since she planned on running again anyway, Lucio’s surprise retirement felt like the stars aligning Gamez said. She said serving in political office is a dream she’s had since being a teenger.
“The block knocking, the meet and greets, the community remembered that I had just run,” Gamez said of her second run.
In office, Gamez says she wants to focus on legislation to improve mental health, as well as economically support the Brownsville area and her district.
“If we want to continue to grow and be economically competitive here at the port with SpaceX and those other existing industries, we need to start feeding this need for skilled labor,” Gamez said.
Gamez is serving on the International Relations & Economic Development Committee as well as the Natural Resources Committee. The Brownsville lawmaker has met with leaders from Brownsville Independent School District, City of Brownsville, Texas Facilities Commission and the Port of Brownsville to discuss skilled labor needs in the region.
“We all need to sit at the same table and say, how can we create an agenda that feeds industry needs?” Gamez said. “And so I would like to create a skilled labor taskforce, inviting even existing industry, the private sector to sit at that table as well to tell us what we can do to help them.”
The new representative said she is also committed to fighting for Texas teachers and for the Brownsville Independent School District, one of the largest employers in the district.
“My heart is with all of our public educators right now who are struggling and fighting to keep the faith and the hope after the pandemic and keep showing up everyday, because right after our skilled labor shortage I think we need to be worried about our educator shortage,” Gamez said.
Gamez has worked as an attorney with her father’s law office since graduating from South Texas College of Law in 2014.
“I grew up working in his law office, that’s all I ever wanted to do is come home and litigate here and start trying cases,” Gamez said.
“I never looked back, I feel like I’ve been able to do some things here in the Valley that I might never have gotten the opportunity to do in other larger forums because as a baby attorney they’ll only let you do so much,” Gamez said of her work on capital cases.
“Down here, you put your shoulder pads on and get in the game,” she said.
Gamez graduated from the University of Texas where she served as a legislative aide to former state Rep. Rene Oliveira. In 2010 after graduating, Gamez continued her work as a legislative aide, this time doing advocacy and public affairs work with Arnold Public Affairs.
More recently, Gamez began serving as Cameron County’s first defense attorney for the county’ mental health diversion court. She said the work requires defense attorneys to argue with compassion and speak to clients about seeking healthcare for mental health problems. Many have never been diagnosed or sought help.
“Some of these individuals have never learned to properly medicate and live with their diagnosis,” Gamez said.
The diversion program helps defendants access health insurance and doctors that play a daily role in their lives. The 18 to 24 month program also helps them receive their GED or secondary schooling for trades.
“They leave our program, not just totally in control of their life and their mental health but ready to be a contributing, working member of society,” Gamez. “And man, there’s just nothing that gets me more excited, seeing how we turn these people’s lives around.”
Gamez will join the Texas Legislature following one of the most divided sessions in recent history. Democrats repeatedly broke quorum to attempt to stop a Republican “elections integrity” agenda that made it more difficult to access the ballot box.
“A ton of our constituents at home ask me, ‘Erin why are you doing, you know what you’re going into, you’re gonna be going up against a super majority, how are you going to get anything done?’ And my answer to that is that there’s no alternative,” Gamez said. She said the parties would have to learn to work together.
“Even in meeting some of my Republican colleagues up there, I think sometimes the only thing that makes the headlines are these really heavy topics, but I know there’s a lot of good — a lot of good — that comes out of the capital and we don’t hear about,” Gamez said. “And that’s why I’m going up there, that’s why I’m in this because I know I need to get through a lot of the other stuff to get to the good stuff.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org