In the 173 years since Texas acquired statehood, the state has never elected a Latina woman to Congress. Now, it’s likely that the state will send its first two Latina representatives—current state Senator Sylvia Garcia and former El Paso county judge Veronica Escobar—to Capitol Hill.
In Texas’ 29th Congressional District, Garcia won over 60 percent of the vote in a primary race against six opponents, securing the Democratic nomination for a seat currently held by Rep. Gene Greene. In El Paso’s 16th Congressional District, Escobar easily secured the Democratic nomination for a house seat currently held by Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running for a Senate seat against Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Both of these districts are expected to go blue in the fall.
Garcia, who has served as a Texas state senator since 2013, is well known in Houston politics, and ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Green in 1992 for the seat she just won last night. During the primary, Rep. Green, who is retiring, endorsed her and stumped the campaign trail with her last weekend.
During a victory speech, Garcia made it clear that Latinos, long attacked by President Trump, are coming for the polls. “This is not my victory,” Garcia told a crowd of supporters yesterday. “This was for Latinos, who for too long have sat on the political sidelines while the president sits in the White House blaming all of our problems on immigrants.” Once elected, Garcia says she plans to advocate for a higher federal minimum wage and support legislative efforts to protect DACA recipients.
“We know that representation matters and that taking the first step to [elect] our first Latina for Congress is not just a milestone but a step for generations to come,” she told the Houston Chronicle after her win.
“People came out to vote because there’s a real concern about what is happening.”
While speaking to the phone with Broadly today, Escobar—who received more than 60 percent of the vote from the 16th district before all the ballots had even been counted—acknowledged the immense significance of her win. “The victories that we celebrated last night are a triumph for diversity in a time where we need more diversity than ever,” Escobar said. “Now two women who are friends, as I consider Sylvia [Garcia] a friend, are going up [to Congress] in November, and it’s very likely we’ll do well.”
Escobar also noted the importance of two Latina women seeing notable political gains under a president who regularly disparages and scapegoats Latinx people. “I’ve been knocking on thousands of doors since I launched my campaign in August, and the number one concern folks have shared with me is what’s currently happening in Washington,” Escobar said. “People came out to vote because there’s a real concern about what is happening.”
Garcia and Escobar’s elections will also bolster Texas’ currently meager number of women policy-makers. While the huge state has 36 congressional districts, only three women currently represent the state in Congress. All three women representatives have served for decades; the most recent woman elected to the delegation, Republican Rep. Kay Granger, won in 1996.
Yesterday’s Democratic primary broke records for Democratic voter turnout, bringing Democratic Party leaders and candidates great hope for 2018, But Escobar warns that we can’t lose a sense of urgency. “We can’t rest. We won’t be able to continue this great streak by just thinking it’s going to continue organically,” she said. “We need to keep winning elections in 2018, in 2020, and beyond.”