Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos Jr. Dies

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State Sen. Mario Gallegos, Jr., D-Houston, questions Sen. Robert Duncan on a finance bill late in the session May 29, 2011.
State Sen. Mario Gallegos, Jr., D-Houston, questions Sen. Robert Duncan on a finance bill late in the session May 29, 2011.

Mario Gallegos Jr., the first Hispanic state senator elected to represent a Harris County district, died Tuesday at age 62 following complications associated with his 2007 liver transplant.

Democratic consultant Harold Cook said that Gallegos was surrounded by family members and close friends when he passed away this afternoon at Houston's Methodist Hospital.

"The Senator's family is enormously grateful for the outpouring of support, thoughts, and prayers expressed during the last few days," Cook said in a prepared statement.

Gallegos served in the Legislature for more than 20 years, starting with his election to the House in 1991. He began serving in the Senate in 1995. Gallegos most recently served as chair of the Flooding and Evacuations committee as well as sitting on the Education, Intergovernmental Relations, International Relations and Trade, and Jurisprudence committees.

Gallegos was "a devoted public servant who proudly represented the people of Senate District 6 for the last 17 years, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a written statement.

"He was a friend and colleague to all the Senators and myself, and he will be dearly missed by all of us," Dewhurst added. 

"He fought for his community and for communities across the state to access education, health care and jobs," state Sen. Jose Rodriguez D-El Paso, said in a prepared statement. "He also refused to allow Texas to regress towards the discrimination of its past, and always stood with those of us who seek to progress toward the New Texas of access and opportunity for all of its citizens.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that you always knew where you stood with Gallegos.

"When he was on your side, you knew you had a pugnacious and dedicated defender; if he was on the other side, you knew you had to be prepared to vigorously defend your position, because he would fight like a bulldog for what he believed," Ellis said.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, added that "Texas will be a lesser place without Mario’s heart and heroism." 

Legislative priorities that Gallegos worked on during his legislative career included economic development issues, the creation of municipal management districts and legislation that benefits police officers and firefighters. Issues affecting senior citizens and education were also high on his legislative agenda. 

Gallegos was an outspoken opponent of voter ID laws. In 2007, as the Senate prepared to vote on a bill that would have required Texas voters to show photo ID, Gallegos set up a hospital bed outside the Senate chambers so he could be present to oppose the bill while recovering from a recent liver transplant.

"It's very important to me," he said at the time. "I think my constituents feel strongly about this. As long as I can stand, I need to be here."

A lifelong resident of Houston and a University of Houston alumnus, Gallegos was heavily involved in issues surrounding education there, developing a sometimes-adversarial relationship with Houston ISD.

Before his legislative career, he spent 22 years with the Houston Fire Department, where  he retired as a senior captain.

Survivors include his wife, Theresa, three children and five grandchildren.

Details on services are pending. Cook said that the Gallegos family intend to hold funeral services in Houston and a memorial service in Austin. 

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