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"Veteran." "Seasoned warrior." "Personal friend." "Tactician."
With glowing words – but expressing no ill will toward the outgoing incumbent – some Democratic lawmakers are welcoming former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer back. They say his history in the Capitol and facility with legislative rules make him a strong player on a political team that's vastly outnumbered in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.
"Trey served in the House a long time and has a lot of experience, and I have no doubt he’ll hit the ground running," said state Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. He said the incumbent, state Rep. Diana Arévalo, "was an excellent member, and we wish her all the best."
In Tuesday night's primary election, Martinez Fischer eked out a win over incumbent Arévalo — earning 4,742 votes to her 4,627 — in a contest for the San Antonio seat he held until 2016. Arévalo said Wednesday evening she is waiting for mail-in ballots, military ballots and provisional ballots to be certified before conceding the race. The 115-vote margin is also close enough for her campaign to be allowed to request a recount.
Arévalo didn't comment on the campaign Wednesday. But in the run-up to the election, she said she wasn't going to be "bullied" out of a seat Martinez Fischer chose to leave.
“My predecessor lost his bid for the Senate — twice — and now he wants ‘his’ House seat back,” Arévalo said then.
Martinez Fischer left the seat to run, unsuccessfully, for the state Senate in 2016 after serving 16 years in the lower chamber. During that time, he gained a reputation for being brash, unafraid of a fight and well-versed in legislative rules and parliamentary procedures. One of Martinez Fischer's favorite tools was raising points of order, a tactic that can be used to cause strategic delays.
His expertise, he told The Texas Tribune in January, could “bring the Capitol to a grinding halt, sometimes for hours.” He pointed to a string of bills pushed by Republicans that he’d derailed over the course of his career.
“When the Legislature was 101-49 Republicans to Democrats, Trey was the guy who was halting every piece of major Republican legislation with parliamentary procedures and rallying Democrats together to put up a fight,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party and a former Martinez Fischer staffer.
People may perceive Martinez Fischer as a “progressive firebrand,” Garcia said. “When he says something, he says something quite loud," but he knows how to count votes, build coalitions and make deals, he added.
Opposition lawmakers, he said, may be feeling “a little uneasy."
Democratic state Reps. César Blanco, D-El Paso, and Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco, two of the 17 lawmakers who took the unusual step of endorsing Martinez Fischer over the incumbent, said Martinez Fischer brings with him a history of delivering as a legislator and helping the party.
One key decision already on the horizon: choosing the next speaker of the Texas House.
Martinez Fischer's experience as "someone who has been there during [Speaker Joe] Straus, who's been there during Speaker [Tom] Craddick – to have that historical perspective and to see what worked and didn't work is extremely helpful," Blanco said.
Garcia said Martinez Fischer's ability to build consensus will be valuable during what could be a contentious speaker's race. “If we’re going to be able to forge a coalition – to do that, Trey is going to be a key player,” he said. “I’m sure there are a number of speaker hopefuls that are probably giving Trey a lot of well-wishes right now."
Martinez Fischer has had success with parliamentary stalling tactics, but some lawmakers said he's not alone in using those maneuvers. "When Trey wasn't there, we still had points of order. When he was there, he had his own," Martinez said. "He's another piece of the puzzle that it's definitely good to have."
Martinez Fischer will face off with Fernando Padron, a Republican candidate who ran unchallenged, in the general election. Martinez Fischer reported having nearly $74,000 on hand for the period ending Feb. 24, 2018. Padron reported having $8.81 on hand in his most recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Martinez Fischer said if he wins the general election, as he is widely expected to, he looks forward to doing his part to be an "effective voice" for San Antonio. Issues are "always evolving" — "there's often a Republican proposal that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up" — and he said the tenor of the majority party will play a large role in his legislative priorities.
"If Republicans wish to be pragmatic, I look forward to being part of the solution on matters affecting hardworking Texans. If Republicans choose to govern with partisan vitriol, then I will fight them every step of the way," he said.