As she campaigns across South Texas, former legislator Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles says there’s something that stands out about her: She’s the only Democratic female candidate in the area.
Gonzalez Toureilles, a lawyer, represented House District 35 for three terms but was ousted in 2010. She is now challenging state Rep. J.M. Lozano, a Kingsville Republican who recently switched parties, in the newly drawn House District 43.
When Lozano announced his switch in March, he said Texas Democrats bullied him for voting in the interests of his district.
Gonzalez Toureilles finds that amusing.
“What man in South Texas admits that, that he was bullied by Democrats? For shame, for shame,” she quipped. “I was in the House for three terms, and if you can’t stand the heat, you don’t deserve to be there.”
Up for grabs is a six-county swath in South Texas and the coastal bend that is considered a toss-up. It’s a place where Gonzalez Toureilles said Democrats are a breed of their own.
“A Texas Democrat is different from a California Democrat, and a rural Texas Democrat is different from an urban Texas Democrat,” she said in response to Lozano’s claim that the Democratic Party is monolithic.
During her tenure, she said, she was known for passing or supporting legislation based on what her district needed and not what her party dictated.
“We passed property tax relief for farmers and ranchers. We always had the endorsement from teachers to firefighters to law enforcement to property rights associations,” she said. “I voted against the business franchise tax, which is a tax on small business. I always voted for property relief tax relief for my constituents. Whatever the issue was I always voted to help the people back home above party.”
Elected in 2010, Lozano never served with Gonzalez Toureilles. But he said he’s used to taking hits from the other side — even before he switched parties — and is using it to his advantage as he block walks.
“I’m knocking on so many doors of people who work in the Eagle Ford [Shale] or have family who work in the Eagle Ford, and I am able to tell them what I did on energy resources last session when the liberals tried to stop [Eagle Ford drilling] because of an endangered salamander,” he said. “I was fighting criticism during the session when I was voting my district. I am pro-oil-and-gas, pro-life.”
He also wears the experience of a lawmaker who weathered two storms this year after tough contests during the primary and the runoff. In May, Lozano was the top vote-getter in a field of three, just ahead of architect Bill T. Wilson. That vote set the stage for the incumbent’s subsequent victory in the July runoff, winning by about 500 votes.
Lozano said the results of those contests indicate that voters in the district are capable of embracing more conservative issues.
“If you look at the primary and the runoff, 20 percent of the voters were first-time Republican voters,” he said. “And if they are willing to go vote in the Republican primary, far more are going to vote for a Republican in the general election ballot. The numbers are there, and it shows people that when you show them the issues, they vote the person, clearly.”
One of the issues Lozano said he “absolutely” supported was the controversial abortion sonogram bill, which most Democrats railed against and labeled government overreach. The bill, he said, falls in line with his conservative principles.
Gonzalez Toureilles said that she is talking about women’s issues as a catalyst to spur women to the polls and paint the GOP’s ideas as a throwback to more restrictive times.
“It feels like a very anti-woman [climate] within the last year on so many things,” she said. “Women voters feel very much that, on women’s health issues, Texas is not progressing but going backwards in terms of things as simple as diabetes screening and women’s health programs and cervical cancer screening and mammograms. Women feel that we’re not getting a fair shake.”
Gonzalez Toureilles’ confidence masks the overwhelming defeat her party suffered two years ago, when the Democrats saw their numbers in the Texas House dwindle by more than two dozen. She said it wasn’t a reflection of her record, but the anti-Washington mood of voters in general.
“I don’t think we could have done or said or spent or campaigned any different than we had. The numbers just weren’t there, the enthusiasm was low and the turnout was very low,” she said. “Turnout on the other side was very high, but it wasn’t anti-Yvonne or … any of the guys who got beat.”
The most recent campaign finance reports, filed in June, showed Lozano with a substantial financial edge over Gonzalez Toureilles. From January through June, Lozano had raised $66,000 and spent $126,000, with about $14,600 left on hand. Gonzalez Toureilles raised about $17,700 and spent $9,300 with about $9,600 on hand. Updated reports are due next week.
In the meantime, Lozano said he is busy letting people know they can still support Democrats on the local ballot while still casting their vote for a Republican.
“That’s how we are drawing people to the polls, saying, ‘I need your help, go vote, here’s the ballot, mark my name,’” he said.