District 120 candidates(top left to bottom right) Mario Salas, Lou Miller, LaTronda Darnell, Byron Miller, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall. Photo collage courtesy of candidates / Scott Ball.
District 120 candidates (top left to bottom right) Mario Salas, Lou Miller, LaTronda Darnell, Byron Miller (dropped out), Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall. Photo collage courtesy of candidates / Scott Ball.

The election to fill the vacant Texas House District 120 seat representing San Antonio’s Eastside just got more complicated. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has called a May 7 special election to fill the unexpired 11-month term of Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who resigned on Jan. 31. Early voting will be held April 25-May 3. Click here to read the governor’s proclamation.

McClendon, 72, who first won election to the seat in 1996, has battled nonsmoker’s lung cancer since 2009. She  announced  in September that she would step down at the end of her term, but later changed her mind and sent Abbott a Jan. 26 letter of resignation. Some supporters said the timing likely was health-related. McClendon has not responded to interview requests.

Six candidates, all Democrats, filed for the March 1 primary election seat after McClendon made her initial announcement in September. Some Eastside observers believe Former City Councilman Mario Salas could win in the first round of voting on March 1, while others predict the race will go to a May 24 runoff.  If one of the candidates does win on March 1, he or she will run unopposed in the November 8 General Election and be sworn in to office for a full term in January 2017.  If there is a runoff, the winner of the May 24 contest will run unopposed on the November ballot.

The May 7 special election was called by Abbott to determine who will fill serve out McClendon’s unexpired term this year. The special election date and early voting period will come as an added cost for the Bexar County Elections department and likely will add to voter confusion and result in even lower voter turnout across what could be four voting dates for District 120 this year — March 1, May 7, May 24, and Nov. 8. The special election for District 118 cost the county $118,000.

Since the filing deadline for the special election will be Feb. 16, two weeks before the March 1 primary, the likelihood is that all six candidates will file for the special election. Although there are no Republicans on the March 1 ballot, someone could file by Feb. 16  to run in the special election. A May 7 election that does not end with a clear winner to fill McClendon’s unexpired term would lead to yet another runoff and a fifth date that would fall 70-75 days after the May 7  vote is canvassed. That means a runoff would be held in late July or early August to fill out the last months of the unexpired term.

“It’s only going to further confuse voters, and it’s possible that sample ballots will be mailed for four different dates with all six candidates listed,” said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen.

The roster of March 1 primary candidates includes Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a sister of Spurs legend George “Iceman” Gervin. Together they founded the George Gervin Youth Center, a facility that includes the George Gervin Academy, a free public charter school.

Others on the ballot include former City Councilmembers Art Hall and Salas. Salas previously held the District 2 seat, while Hall represented District 8 and was not living in District 2 until he filed for election.  Former mayoral aide and VIA Metropolitan Transit board member Lou Miller, and Byron Miller, no relation, who ran for the District 2 Council seat in 2009 and lost to Ivy Taylor, also are running.

Lou Miller, an insurance agent, made news when he joined Taylor’s staff following her mayoral appointment in July 2014, but then resigned months later, reportedly over political friction between the City and San Antonio Police Officers Association over collective bargaining.

The sixth candidate is political newcomer and legislative director LaTronda Darnell.  The Express-News reported that her residence was in New Braunfels when she filed for the District 120 race, but Damon Lake, a campaign aide, said Darnell is now a registered Bexar County voter.

Darnell was an aide and intern for McClendon, starting in 2000. She subsequently served as a legislative director, senior policy analyst and constituent services director for three members of the Texas Legislature.
Lake said Darnell and her husband, Stephen, have fought to “achieve a happy medium” between San Antonio and Austin during her years working at the Legislature. By earning degrees from St. Phillip’s College, University of Texas at San Antonio, Walden University and Webster University, Darnell has maintained strong tie to San Antonio’s Eastside and the city, in general, Lake said.

*Top Image: District 120 candidates(top left to bottom right) Mario Salas, Lou Miller, LaTronda Darnell, Byron Miller, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall. Photo collage courtesy of candidates / Scott Ball. 

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San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.