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San Antonio State Rep. Roland Gutierrez hung on for a narrow victory over incumbent State Sen. Pete Flores, providing Texas Democrats with their only pickup in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Gutierrez reclaimed the traditionally Democratic seat by getting just under 50 percent of the vote to Flores’ 47 percent, according to unofficial results Wednesday. Gutierrez thanked his supporters in District 19, which includes the west and southwest parts of Bexar County, part of Atascosa, all of Medina, and much of Southwest Texas.

“Now we shift our focus to the session in January, where I look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to get great things done for working class families and everyone in District 19!” Gutierrez said in a tweet.

Historically, the district has voted Democrat. With his 2018 victory in a special election, Flores, a former game warden, became the first Hispanic Republican elected to the Senate and first Republican elected in District 19 in 139 years.

Flores conceded in an official statement on his website Wednesday. 

“Yesterday’s election results were not what we had hoped for, but this campaign has come to an end,” he said. “I send my heartfelt thanks to the people of the District. I appreciate the opportunity to serve as their State Senator for the 86th Session.”

Flores added while he will complete his term in January, his service to the people of south and west Texas will continue.

State Sen. Pete Flores. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Jamie Bennett, Flores’ communications director, said having Libertarian candidate  Jo-Anne Valdivia in the mix affected the race. Bennett added that he believes Flores would have gotten 80 percent of the votes that went to Valdivia. With 94 percent of polling locations reporting, Flores trailed by 10,346 votes; Valdivia got 11,218 votes.

Gutierrez, who was endorsed by Joe Biden, said he said he feels Flores’ support for President Donald Trump did not help him in the tight race.

“He came out on video several times actually saying, ‘Yes, ma’am, I am with Trump,’ and so I think that this district is not about one person – it’s not about Donald Trump – this district is about working class families,” Gutierrez said.

The six-term state representative said he would focus on healing Texas from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gutierrez said legalizing cannabis and building destination casinos can bring about $6 billion in tax revenue to the state.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get creative on tax revenue,” he said. “That’s an absolute certainty, and we’ve got to figure out some solutions that allow us to create revenue without raising property taxes at home.”

Gutierrez, who made an unsuccessful 2018 primary bid for the Senate seat, announced his second run in late November last year. An immigration attorney who has represented House District 119 since 2008, Gutierrez is a past San Antonio City Council member and was known for spearheading legislation to accommodate redevelopment of Hemisfair during his time as a state representative. 

Reclaiming the Senate seat was a priority for Democrats this election, and Gutierrez’s victory represented one of the party’s few Texas victories in the 2020 elections. While Republicans appear to have kept the majority in the Texas House, their supermajority in the Texas Senate is at risk. 

Before the election, Republicans held 19 state Senate seats to the Democrats’ 12. With Flores gone, Republicans will have just 18 votes, losing the supermajority they need to bring bills up for debate under Senate rules. 

Previously 21 votes, the supermajority was lowered to 19 by Patrick in 2015 after the GOP faced years of roadblocks to passing several conservative measures by the chamber’s two-thirds rule. Patrick’s successful move to lower the threshold changed the supermajority’s definition from two-thirds to three-fifths.

In January, Patrick said the senate may further reduce that threshold to 16, or to a simple majority.

“I’m right there at that number, and if we lose one or two seats, then we might have to go to 16 next session,” Patrick told the Texas Tribune. “We might have to go to a simple majority because we will not be stopped in leading on federalism in the United States of America.”

In a statement Wednesay, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said that a critical strategic goal for state Democrats this year was to block Dan Patrick’s agenda in the Texas Senate.

“By flipping Senate District 19 and electing Roland Gutierrez we have claimed our power in the Texas Senate,” he said. “Texas Democrats were proud to invest in Senate District 19.”

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the general assignment reporter for the San Antonio Report.