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Diego Bernal, a civil rights lawyer and former City Council member, is the new District 123 representative in the Texas House after scoring an overwhelming victory over Republican opponent Nunzio Previtera in a race that was all but over the moment the polls closed and early voting results were released at 7 p.m. Bernal’s election night headquarters at Los Barrios restaurant was the scene of a drama-free evening and early celebration.
Previtera failed to capitalize on a higher turnout driven by the Senate District 26 race. Bernal delivered his victory speech shortly after 7:30 p.m. as precinct reports began to roll in and his lead held strong. That’s about as early as it gets on election night.
“I’m really humbled, but the weight of the responsibility is not lost on me,” Bernal said. “I’m going to soak this in tonight and then tomorrow we’re getting to make sure that when we go up there, we’re not just furniture – we’re active and we’re doing as much as we can to make sure that this area is represented.
“For the past month or so, (District 123) hasn’t been represented, and that’s not okay,” he said.
Once the vote is canvassed and Bernal is sworn in, he will find himself in a distinct minority of 52 Democrats facing 98 Republicans. Gov. Greg Abbott will have to call yet another special election, probably in March, to fill the District 124 seat that will be vacated by Rep. José Menéndez when he takes the Senate seat being vacated by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is stepping down to run for mayor.
(Read more: Menéndez Scores Stunning Win in Senate Runoff)
Bernal nearly pulled off a first round victory in a crowded field of six candidates in the Jan. 6 first round. This time around Bernal won 63% of the early vote total while Previtera finished with 36% A political newcomer with little name recognition in the district, Previtera did not benefit from the crossover vote in in the state Senate race. With 100% of precincts reported, Bernal still held a 63.67%-36.33% lead.
After the official vote canvass by Bexar County election officials, Bernal will replace former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, who stepped down to become the first declared candidate in the now-crowded race for San Antonio mayor. That contest now includes Van de Putte, Mayor Ivy Taylor, former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and several other declared candidates without funding or visible support. City elections will be held May 9.
Bernal’s headquarters at Los Barrios had the feel of a victory party from the outset. A Who’s Who of Democratic Party party leaders were on hand over the course of the evening, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, and Van de Putte.
State Rep.-elect Bernal’s priorities?
Public education, public health, and predatory lending to name a few. Similar priorities he set as a City Council member, Bernal said.
“This is a little bit of a larger area and they (his constituents) care about the same things.”
Bernal also expressed his deep gratitude to friends and family that supported his campaign.
“I’m one person. You can’t knock on hundreds of doors by yourself, you can’t make thousands of phone calls yourself. There is something really almost embarrassing about other people that work on your behalf,” Bernal said to the crowd. “I’m humbled by it and it’s my responsibility to make good on that effort and belief you put in me.”
*Featured/top image: Rep. Diego Bernal answers questions from the media while his fiancé, Elyse Alaniz, looks on during his election watch party. Photo by Iris Dimmick.