State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., the most conservative Democrat in the Texas Senate, is facing off against two progressives in 2020. This cycle’s challenge to Lucio is proof that South Texas, historically more conservative on some issues, may be changing.
Elected in 1991, Lucio is one of the longest-serving state senators. Over his more than 25 years in office, he’s perfected a working relationship with the state’s Republican leadership often to the dismay of his fellow colleagues.
In 2013, Lucio was the only Democrat to vote for a restrictive and sweeping anti-abortion law that eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, he was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of a rule change that gave Democrats less power in the Senate. In 2017, he was the only Democrat to stump for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s anti-transgender bathroom bill.
This past session, Lucio continued siding with Republicans on social issues including supporting the session’s most restrictive reproductive rights law, Senate Bill 22, and Gov. Greg Abbott’s personal favorite, the anti-LGBTQ ‘Save Chick-fil-A’ bill.
A race to replace
Lucio’s poor record on civil and reproductive rights hasn’t been lost on his two Democratic opponents for Senate District 27, Attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera and Texas Education Board member Ruben Cortez Jr.
“That shouldn’t have to happen,” Ruben told the Signal of Lucio sole Democratic vote for a bill to allow state-licensed professionals to avoid gay or transgender clients. “If we had a real Democrat in that office, we wouldn’t be sending things out [of the Senate] by a margin of one vote for unnecessary fights in the House.”
Like Ruben, Stapleton-Barrera has also called Lucio a fake Democrat and hammered him on the campaign trail over his problematic voting record.
Ruben took a particular issue with Lucio’s relationship with Lt. Gov Patrick, whom Lucio considers a friend and has lavishly praised. “He is a man of great intellect, a man who is down to earth,” Lucio said of Patrick, whom he ranked as his favorite lieutenant governor over the years.
Ruben said Texas Democrats shouldn’t have to lose sleep over which way Lucio may vote on a critical item. During the 2019 session, some Democrats even feared Lucio would side with Republicans to appoint David Whitley, the former acting Texas Secretary of State who tried to remove 95,000 Texans from the state’s voter rolls in a discriminatory purge.
Lucio was the last Democrat to go on record against Whitley and eventually voted along party lines to reject him. “We thought down here in the Valley that he was going to vote to confirm because he invited Dan Patrick to do a tour of South Texas,” Ruben said. “For what purpose? So that Patrick can figure out which of these 90,000 votes he’s purging in the Valley? Hell no. He’s not welcome here.”
For young Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing population, the race for Senate District 26 could provide a testing ground for how the politics of young South Texas voters differ from that of older generations who voted Lucio into office almost three decades ago. For a relatively safe Democratic district in South Texas, there’s little to lose in challenging Lucio from the left and plenty to gain from eradicating his discriminatory brand of politics.
Photo: Edward Lucio Jr./senate.texas.gov