A heralded veteran is expected to return to the Texas House of Representatives when the 86th legislative session is called to order next year, and he knows his prospective Republican adversaries have likely taken note.
“I don’t think I need to go through any orientations or introduce myself – I’m pretty well-known in Austin by Republicans,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, the Democrat who’s running to reclaim the House District 116 seat he held for 16 years. “If they grimaced about me coming back, I hope so. I certainly hope so.”
Before ceding the seat in 2016 to make an unsuccessful run for the State Senate, Martinez Fischer was a thorn in his conservative colleagues’ side, as he made his mark using points of order and other tactical use of parliamentary procedure to thwart or stall Republican-backed legislation, such as a bill intended to dismantle cities’ ability to create ordinances that protect trees. Such an ordinance exists in San Antonio.
“That is the trick I’m most known for – the ability to take some of the most divisive and vitriolic pieces of policy and stop them in their tracks,” said Martinez Fischer, a local attorney.
Martinez Fischer claimed a narrow victory in his primary, edging first-term incumbent Rep. Diana Arévalo by 115 votes in the staunchly Democratic district.
On Nov. 6, he faces Republican Fernando Padron, a 48-year-old pastor and entrepreneur. Padron has received Gov. Greg Abbott’s endorsement.
“I’m pragmatic, I’m not combative, and I’m willing to listen to both sides and come up with common-sense legislation,” Padron said, adding he would prioritize issues such as reforming property taxes, sustaining current economic growth, and addressing gentrification if elected.
Padron ran for Bexar County tax assessor-collector in 2016 but lost in the Republican primary. He has never held elected office.
If Padron wins, he would do so in spite of a gaping funding disparity between him and Martinez Fischer. As of Oct. 9, the most recent report, Padron had raised just over $3,000 in total political contributions and had $363 cash on hand. Martinez Fischer’s contributions total nearly $38,000, and he had more than $68,000 at his disposal, according to the most recent campaign finance report.
District 116 – which spans San Antonio’s northwest corridor along Interstate 10, bounded by West Commerce Street to the south and Loop 1604 to the north – has not been represented by a Republican in more than 100 years, according to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas.
Although Martinez Fischer is looking ahead to returning to Austin, he said local Democrats aren’t taking any race lightly, especially in the wake of losing the State Senate seat held by criminally convicted Carlos Uresti to Republican Pete Flores in a special election for District 19.
With an apparently clear path to victory ahead, Martinez Fischer has given some of his time to supporting other Democrats. As he prepared to lead the program at a watch party for the U.S. Senate debate between U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) and Sen. Ted Cruz, he said the turnout for the watch party – held in SD 19 at Palo Alto College – sent a clear message that Democrats aren’t backing down.
“We’re not running and hiding,” Martinez Fischer said. “We’re going to come back and work this community one vote at a time, one house at a time, one precinct at a time. … The faces and voices representing in Austin are more significant than they ever have been.”
He said he is optimistic Democrats could pick up anywhere from five to 12 seats in the State House, which would give the party a better shot at preventing “bad ideas and policy issues that divide us and do not bring us together.”
With House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) retiring in December, Martinez Fischer would have the most legislative sessions under his belt among the Bexar County delegation if he is elected.
Manny Garcia, who worked as a staffer for Martinez Fischer early on in his career, now serves as the deputy executive director at the Texas Democratic Party. He said Martinez Fischer’s likely return to the House not only brings experience but needed ammunition for Democrats to fight anticipated battles against Republican legislation that would target local paid sick-leave ordinances, such as the one adopted in San Antonio; anti-immigration issues; school vouchers; and the LGBT community.
“The prospect of having Trey back in the Legislature is like adding an all-pro to your lineup,” Garcia said. “This is a person who understands how the Capitol works, is guided by a clear ethic of working toward what people deserve, and what we need to do to deliver results for them. He is a relentless fighter to get to that goal.”