Primary elections typically don’t grab voters’ attention, and this year’s early voting turnout numbers indicate that hasn’t changed in 2022. But as voters go to the polls on Tuesday, there are five primaries that Bexar County residents should be watching.
Democratic primary for Bexar County judge
The Bexar County judge seat is open for the first time in 30 years after Nelson Wolff, who has held it since 2001, announced he wouldn’t seek a sixth term. Only one Republican has ever been elected Bexar County judge, so the winner of the Democratic primary will have the inside track to succeed Wolff.
With four candidates in the field, it’s possible no one will exceed the 50% vote total needed to avoid a runoff. But the race is wide open, with former county District Judge Peter Sakai, state House Rep. Ina Minjarez and Ivalis Meza Gonzalez, Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s former chief of staff, being the contenders.
Sakai is a longtime jurist who supervised the county’s Children’s Court, a specialty court that hears abuse and neglect cases. He has emphasized his familiarity with the workings of the county government and wants to focus on economic development, infrastructure and workforce development.
Minjarez was elected to represent House District 124, on San Antonio’s West Side, in 2015 and has been active in sponsoring legislation. She was the co-sponsor on a bill that would reduce property taxes for elderly and disabled homeowners if approved by voters in May.
The daughter of well-known political activist Choco Meza, Meza Gonzalez resigned from Nirenberg’s staff to enter the race and touts her family ties as evidence of her political chops. She spearheaded the mayor’s public health response to COVID-19 and other initiatives championed by Nirenberg but doesn’t have firsthand experience in elected office.
An incumbent at risk in South Texas
Progressive Democrat Jessica Cisneros is taking her second run at unseating longtime moderate U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, and this time she is getting unexpected help in the form of a recent FBI raid on the incumbent’s home.
The Laredo-based Cuellar’s 28th Congressional District stretches north to encompass parts of the east and southeast portions of Bexar County. He’s serving his ninth term, having fended off Cisneros’ primary challenge in 2020 by less than 4 percentage points. But the January raid on his home has shaken up the race, caused Cuellar to lie low and given Cisneros, an immigration attorney, a fundraising boost. She recently appeared at San Antonio events with two national Democratic headliners, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren.
But Cuellar remains popular in Laredo and wields power in Washington as a member of the House Committee on Appropriations. In a public statement in February, he said he was confident the investigation would show no wrongdoing, and the focus of the FBI investigation isn’t known.
Cuellar also faces attorney Tannya Benavides in the Democratic primary. There are seven candidates on the Republican primary ballot.
An open seat in Congress
Texas’ heavily gerrymandered 35th Congressional District means parts of San Antonio’s urban core and northeast suburbs share a representative with a large swath of Austin. Since the district was created a decade ago, that representative has been Democrat Lloyd Doggett, but redistricting prompted him to leave the seat and run for the newly created 37th District in Travis County.
The open seat in a Democrat-leaning district has attracted four candidates, including state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, former Austin City Councilman Greg Casar and former San Antonio City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran. The best-funded candidates, Casar and Rodriguez, have done battle by mailer, with Rodriguez tying Casar’s progressive agenda as a council member to Austin’s homelessness problem and defunding the police. In turn, Casar has doubled down on his progressive bona fides.
Both candidates have touted their endorsements. San Antonio state Reps. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins and Trey Martinez Fischer are backing Rodriguez, while Casar boasts Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders among his endorsers.
Republicans vie to replace a moderate state rep
With the decision of moderate Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson to step down, the District 122 seat in north Bexar County is up for grabs. Larson, who was first elected to the seat in 2010, has endorsed trucking company executive Adam Blanchard while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has endorsed former Bexar County party Chair Mark Dorazio.
Dorazio has positioned himself as the “strongest conservative” in the race, opposing the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools, advocating for the sovereignty of Texas against the federal government, stopping abortion and ending vaccine mandates. Blanchard, who was also endorsed by former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, describes himself as a pragmatist focused on job creation.
The four-candidate field includes former San Antonio Councilwoman Elisa Chan and Mark Cuthbert, a USAA executive and military veteran. Blanchard’s campaign has vastly outraised the other candidates.
An open Texas House seat on the West Side
House District 124, located on the city’s West Side, will see only its third new representative in 22 years, the result of Minjarez’s decision to run for Bexar County judge.
The open seat in this reliably blue district features three candidates on the Democratic ballot, and only one with previous experience in elected office. Gerald Lopez is serving his second term on the Northside Independent School District board of trustees and is a former aide to state Rep. Ray Lopez, to whom he’s not related, when he sat on City Council.
The field also includes Josey Garcia, an Air Force veteran and co-founder of the activist group Reliable Revolutionaries, and Steven Gilmore, a criminal defense attorney and member of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.