Texas House District 125 candidates (from left) Republican Fred Rangel and Democrat Ray Lopez.
Texas House District 125 candidates (from left) Republican Fred Rangel and Democrat Ray Lopez Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Candidates are doing their best to drive voter turnout as early voting starts in the special election runoff for Texas House District 125.

After a special election with four Democratic candidates and one Republican, the runoff has turned into a classic face-off between one candidate from each party. Former District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez, a Democrat, narrowly won a spot in the runoff election last month with 19.5 percent of the vote, while businessman and RepublicanFred Rangel easily led the pack with 38 percent.

Lopez said he doesn’t consider the previous margin to be indicative of how the runoff will shake out because the district is made up of mostly Democratic voters.

“Crystallizing the message for all Democrats to get behind is important, and I believe we’re doing that,” he said. “All my co-candidates [from the previous election] have endorsed me and supported me. They all realize party unity is important. We don’t want to lose a predominantly Democratic area to a Republican.”

Both candidates have acknowledged school finance reform is paramount in their district, as it is in the Legislature, but differ on secondary priorities. Lopez has championed veteran services and job creation, while Rangel said he wants to see property tax relief and lists his anti-abortion stance as a priority on his campaign’s Facebook page. But most of Rangel’s efforts currently focus on telling people an election is happening, he said.

“Many did not know that there was an election,” Rangel said. “Many were happy to have a conservative choice. I’m just continuing [to do outreach] and letting people know they have an opportunity.”

Rangel has endorsements from major Republican figures and organizations. The Hispanic Republicans of Texas PAC announced their support for Rangel on Thursday, and leaders including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Gov. Greg Abbott also have endorsed Rangel.

“[Those endorsements] certainly will have impact, and I’m excited about that support,” he said.

While Lopez said Rangel’s political celebrity backing is of concern, he said he’s not worried about how it will affect the runoff’s outcome. Lopez has picked up his own endorsements, including labor union Texas AFL-CIO and the San Antonio Central Labor Council on Thursday.

“I have support from every single Democratic legislator in Bexar County,” Lopez said. “The previous three state representatives in this district are endorsing me. The senator that covers this district endorsed me. They will also be doing outreach, and they’re closest to the voter … we absolutely have the horsepower that’s closest to the ground level.”

Either way, Lopez said he has no idea how the election ultimately will turn out.

“In a race like this, there’s not enough time and no one has the money to [poll],” he said. “You have to work off the assumption you’re behind and work from there.”

Where they stand

Lopez and Rangel met at a forum Tuesday hosted by the League of Women Voters, where they discussed paid sick leave, abortion, immigration, and the secretary of state’s recent instruction to county registrars to investigate potential noncitizen voters, which a federal judge blocked on Feb. 27. At the forum, Rangel and Lopez differed on most issues, including universal background checks for gun buyers, building the border wall, and toll roads. They did agree that senior citizens should be given some form of property tax relief, though Lopez said he wants to be careful that programs that rely on taxes would not be hurt.

Lopez said his four terms on City Council and extensive work on educational initiatives like Pre-K for SA have prepared him for the Legislature’s work on education reform, and his 34 years at AT&T give him the business acumen to understand issues that affect the business community. But sustaining investments in education requires addressing how the state distributes money to public schools, he said.

“The very first thing we have to do is fix the formulas,” he said. “The second thing is incredibly important: to generate revenues dedicated specifically to education. But we can’t just say we need to get teachers’ pay. That’s exactly what we need to do, but we need to go beyond that.”

Rangel said he understands public school funding challenges from seeing it firsthand as a student in Edgewood Independent School District in the 1960s. He said he’s looking at solving the problem from a business perspective.

“You look to define the costs, to reduce those costs, and to find a way to increase the services and product for the same amount,” he said.

Rangel said he thinks the sick paid leave ordinance San Antonio passed would inadvertently harm businesses, but Lopez said he would have supported the measure if he were still on City Council when it was approved. He also said a state bill banning such ordinances was about local control.

“I really believe that it’s imperative our municipalities have the opportunity that they have local control,” he said. “If you want to argue it’s a competitive disadvantage or whatever — it is an issue of local control. If it moves forward at the state level, I’d be interested in seeing the dialogue and language of that.”

When and where to vote

Early voting for the runoff is Monday through Friday. The lack of weekend early voting is typical for this type of election, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said. There are seven early voting sites, and there will be 31 poll sites on election day, which is March 12. Callanen also reiterated that all of the 101,000 registered voters in the district are eligible to vote in this election.

“There’s always confusion when we have a runoff, where some people still think you must have voted in the first election to be able to vote in the runoff,” she said. “That’s not true. If you’re a registered voter in that area, you’re eligible to come to the polls.”

Voters can go to any poll site during early voting but must go to their precinct on election day. Check here for locations. If you’re unsure in which House district you live, you can search by address or ZIP code here. Bring a Texas driver’s license, a U.S. passport, or one of five other valid forms of ID.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.