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Surprise Congressional Challenge as Filing Ends

The window for candidates to file for the March 1 primaries closed Monday evening, and Texas Democrats had a last-minute surprise as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Gene Green of Houston.

Voters cast their ballots in Harris County on Oct. 23, 2015. Photo by: Shelby Knowles

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

The window for candidates to file for the March 1 primaries closed Monday evening, and Texas Democrats had a last-minute surprise as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Gene Green of Houston.

A race between Garcia and Green is likely to be a high-profile contest in what is expected to be a feisty 2016 primary season in Texas, topped with more than 20 presidential contenders.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign and his often-harsh words about Mexican immigrants, including plans for a border wall, helped push Garcia to file at the last minute on Monday, he said.

“The conversation that Donald Trump has been a part of has been just a burr in my side, and I just can’t stand when he speaks blatantly and so negatively about the Hispanic community and immigrants in general,” Garcia said. “I think I can provide a strong and energetic voice to this crazy conversation.”

Garcia, recently unsuccessful in his bid for Houston mayor, said he has long considered a congressional run but decided to attempt to oust Green from the Congressional District 29 seat mere hours before filling out the paperwork.

He said members of Houston’s Hispanic community were “just beside themselves that my election didn’t happen” and after the dust from the mayoral election settled, he realized that he could “be a voice” for the community.

“I mean we have one of the largest, if not the largest, Hispanic-concentration districts in the country, and I know the challenges well,” Garcia said. “During the mayoral campaign, I often ended up saying, ‘I grew up in a tough neighborhood where tough things happened.’ That represents the circumstances of many people in that districts.”

Green, who did not return a request for comment, has represented CD 29 since 1992 and serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Garcia said his race was not about Green or his record but about who could best represent the district.

“I respect him and have the greatest admiration for him,” Garcia said. “But at the end of the day, this is about the people of the district.”

While Garcia's decision was perhaps the biggest surprise on a day full of last-minute filings, by day's end thousands of candidates had officially been named for statewide and local positions.

Two members of the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court are facing primary challenges. Houston appeals court Judge Michael Massengale is challenging Justice Debra Lehrmann. And in a race that is likely to cause some voter confusion, former state Rep. Rick Green is challenging Justice Paul Green.

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence Meyers, who became the first Democrat to hold statewide office in well over a decade after defecting from the Republican Party in 2013, also filed for re-election Monday. Although Meyers said his campaign would "run real hard," he said low voter turnout may impact his ability to snag a statewide office as a Democrat. Three Republicans are also vying for the seat: Harris County Criminal Court Judge Mary Lou Keel, and Collin County District Judges Chris Oldner and Ray Wheless.

Last week, Railroad Commissioner David Porter said he would not seek re-election. Four Republicans have since announced plans to run for the position, including former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, longtime Austin attorney and lobbyist John Greytok, Gary Gates, a wealthy real estate agent and cattle rancher in Richmond and Cypress engineer Ron Hale. Despite some speculation he may enter the race, former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Monday he would not be running for the open seat. 

Among Congressional contests, the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock is set to be among the most crowded on the GOP ballot, with seven candidates having filed as of Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, at least six Democrats had filed for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, who announced his retirement last month.

Most of Texas' incumbents in the U.S. House are running unopposed in their primaries.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, faces three primary challengers, including former state Rep. Steve Toth. At least two veterans are challenging Republican incumbents: Paul Brown is hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, and Gregg Deeb is challenging U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi. Both are veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, according to their campaign web sites.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, will face Ben Mendoza, also of El Paso, in his primary, while U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, will face a primary rival in Carlos Quintanilla of Dallas. Mendoza ran in O'Rourke's primary in 2012, when both challenged longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes. Mendoza came in fourth place with 1.5 percent of the vote. 

In local elections, several Texas Senate and House races will see rematches:

  • Former state Rep. Lance Gooden will face off once more against Rep. Stuart Spitzer, who unseated Gooden in 2014 in House District 4.

  • In House District 58, freshman representative DeWayne Burns will again face construction company owner Philip Eby who he defeated in the 2014 primary.

  • In the Senate, newly elected Sen. José Menéndez will once again run against Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer. In February, Menendez beat Martinez Fischer in a special election runoff to replace Sen. Leticia Van Putte, who resigned to run for mayor of San Antonio. 

  • There will be another rematch of sorts in the Senate as Sen. Carlos Uresti will face off against Helen Madla, the widow of Frank Madla, who Uresti unseated in 2006. 

Representatives Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and David Simpson, R-Longview, have both entered the race for the open Senate Seat in District 1, leaving their House seats up for grabs. Hughes and Simpson will be facing off against two other Republicans for the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Kevin Eltife James “Red” Brown, a major general in the U.S. Army, and Mike Lee, a retired Navy Pilot. 

  • In House District 5, four Republican candidates have surfaced to replace Hughes, who was first elected in 2002. Randy Davisa Texas State Guard officer, businessman Jay MisenheimerPhilip Hayesa former Senate staffer, and Cole Hefner, an insurance salesman and former Upshur county commissioner . 
  • Longview Mayor Jay Dean (R) and businessman David Watts (R) have both filed for Simpson’s seat in District 7. 

A number of candidates announced that they would not run for re-election toward the end of the legislative session this spring, granting potential candidates upwards of five months to lay the groundwork for their campaigns. Others, including Rep. Elliott Naishtat and Martinez Fischer, made their announcement with only a few days left in the filing period, leaving the future of their seats up in the air.

  • State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton announced in July he would not be seeking re-election to the House District 18 seat he has held since 2005. Since his announcement, five Republican candidates have surfaced to fill his seat. Former Huntsville Mayor J. Turner, businessman Ernest Bailes, business attorney Keith Strahan, Liberty County Attorney Wesley Hinch and Van Brookshire, former San Jacinto County Republican Party chairman.
  • In June, Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, announced he would not run for re-election. Five candidates have emerged to fill the District 33 seat the Tea Party-backed candidate has held since 2012. Three Republicans have filed for candidacy, Heath Mayor Lorne Liechty, businessman Justin Holland and Army veteran John Keating. Cristin Padgett and Karen Jacobs are both seeking the Democratic nomination. 

  • After going back and forth about whether he would seek re-election, Naishtat, D-Austin, confirmed last week he would not run again for the seat he first won in 1990. Since his announcement, five Democratic candidates for the House District 49 seat have surfaced including Austin ISD Board President Gina Hinojosa, legislative staffer Huey Fischer, defense attorney Matthew Shrum, personal injury attorney Aspen Dunaway, attorney Blake Rocap and University of Texas law professor Heather Way.

  • Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, announced in June he would not run again for the seat he has held for almost a decade. Since then, both Republican and Democratic candidates have filed to appear on the primary ballot for the House District 54 race. Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper, optometrist Austin Ruiz and Army veteran Larry Smith are vying for the Republican nomination while Lan Carter and Sandra Blankenship will fight for the Democratic nomination. 

  • In August, Rep. Myra Crownover announced she will not seek re-election to the House District 64 seat she has held since 2000. Republicans Rick Hagen, a criminal attorney, Lynn Stucky, a veterinarian, and Read King, a commercial real estate agent have all filed for the seat as well as Democrat Connor Flanagan
  • Rep. Susan King decided not to run for re-election in September, when she announced that she would enter the race in Senate District 24. Since then, five Republican candidates have surfaced to run for her vacant seat, including Abilene ISD School Board trustee Isaac Castro, attorney Chris Carnohan, Stan Lambert and Stacey Scaief. Democrat Pierce LoPachin has also filed. 

  • Longtime Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, announced in September that she would not be seeking re-election to her seat in House District 120. Five Democratic candidates for the seat have emerged – former city councilman Art Hall, Bear County Justice of the Peace Byron Miller, insurance agent Lou Miller, former city councilman Mario Salas and Barbara Gervin-Hawkins. 

  • In June, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said he would not seek re-election to his Senate District 24 seat that he has held since 1997. His announcement prompted King to not run for re-election to her House seat and instead run for Senate; she filed for the seat on Monday. Five other Republican candidates have entered the race for the seat including physician Dawn Buckingham, businessman Jon Cobb, former San Antonio City Councilman Reed Williams, Ryan Downton, president of Little River Health Care and Brent Mayes

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

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