After a grueling two years marked by a pandemic and a winter storm, state Rep. Ina Minjarez said she has become disillusioned with her impact at the Texas Capitol.

“No matter what policies that I think matter — like fixing the grid or health care, things that really matter to this community — I can’t get them done up there,” she said. “We just don’t have the votes to get them done. And when [Republican] leadership decides what’s going to come to the floor, what bills are going to come to the floor, it’s their decision, not mine.”

So when the San Antonio Democrat heard that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff would not run for a sixth term, her ears perked up.

“I want to come home and I feel this is an opportunity that I can take my skill set and be effective and actually get things done for Bexar County,” Minjarez told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday.

Minjarez, 46, declared her candidacy for Bexar County judge on Monday. She joins former judge Peter Sakai on the Democratic primary ballot; Sakai announced his candidacy last week. Former San Antonio mayor and current San Antonio ISD trustee Ed Garza is also considering a run, he told the San Antonio Report on Friday.

“At this time, I’m weighing my options and just reflecting on the time commitment that this would potentially take — not only in a campaign but if successful, as the judge of Bexar County,” Garza said.

Before this year, Minjarez had not considered the office as part of her career trajectory. Her first political ambition was to serve as a judge in the Bexar County judicial system, she said, which she saw as a natural progression for a lawyer. She earned her law degree at St. Mary’s University in 2000 and immediately began working as an assistant district attorney for Bexar County. After six years there, she went into private practice and opened her own law firm. During that time, she ran for the County Court 5 judicial seat twice, she said.

After her second loss, “I decided I was going to give it a break,” she said. “And, of course, I was brokenhearted. It didn’t work out and I decided to broaden my legal experience.”

Minjarez continued working as a lawyer, taking on cases in family law, labor law, and criminal defense. In 2015, when a special election to fill House District 124 was called, she saw a new possibility.

“I can’t articulate why I had an interest,” she said. “But I started looking into it and then saw that it’s about policy. And I thought, ‘I’m a lawyer. I represented children, victims of crime, small businesses, injured workers. I can take my skills to the capitol and actually make the law, make good policy.’”

Minjarez won that election, succeeding now-state Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), who vacated his seat to run for the Texas Senate. She quickly earned the trust of her constituents, easily winning in 2016, 2018, and 2020; that year, she did not draw a primary challenger or an opponent in the general election.

By leaving HD 124 — which sits in western Bexar County — for a county judge campaign, Minjarez acknowledged she would be giving up the near certainty of being reelected. The state’s recent redistricting efforts put even more Democratic voters in that district, which only increased the likelihood of another term if she stayed.

But she couldn’t pass up on the “rare opportunity” to run for Bexar County judge.

“I didn’t serve in office to be safe,” Minjarez said. “There are some legislators OK being safe and having a title. The title wasn’t a ‘need’ for me to have. I really truly want to serve and my district will be in good hands with my next successor. They’re a very informed electorate and they’re going to do their due diligence in picking who their next representative is going to be.”

She also recognized that if successful, she would be the second woman to serve as county judge. The first, Cyndi Taylor Krier, was in office when El Paso-born Minjarez moved to Bexar County in 1997, and Bexar County elected multiple women to Commissioners Court for the first time in 2020. Though “progress has been slow,” Minjarez doesn’t think about her candidacy in those terms.

“I want to earn the position,” she said. “I really want to earn the voters’ respect and want them to feel that I’m the right choice. So I’ve got to earn their vote. I don’t believe, ‘Hey, vote for me because I’m a woman.’ I want to win because the voters truly believe in who I am.”

Disclosure: Ina Minjarez’s husband, Leo Gomez, sits on the San Antonio Report’s board of directors.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.