Sylvia Garcia becomes first Texas Latina to win seat in Congress
Houston Democrat Sylvia Garcia cruised to a barrier-breaking victory in the race for Texas’ 29th Congressional District, joining Veronica Escobar of El Paso on Tuesday as the first Latinas elected to Congress in the state’s 172-year history.
Garcia, a former social worker and lawyer who currently represents east and north Houston in the Texas Senate, easily defeated Republican challenger Phillip Aronoff in the heavily Democratic district. The victory adds another landmark to the rise of Garcia, a longtime advocate for Houston’s most vulnerable residents, who has humble roots tracing back to rural south Texas.
“It’s very exciting to be elected and to have the opportunity to serve the working people of my district and Houston,” Garcia said. “I never focus on being the first, but on being the best for my people.”
Texas voters had propelled 18 Hispanic men to Congress prior to Tuesday, dating back to 1960 with the election of San Antonio’s Henry B. González. Not once, however, had voters sent a Hispanic woman to the nation’s Capitol.
Garcia, 68, was widely expected to end the streak after she garnered nearly two-thirds of votes in the seven-candidate March primary. She will take the seat held by U.S. Rep. Gene Green, who is retiring after 26 years in Congress.
She will represent an area heavily populated by working-class Harris County residents, home to the Houston Ship Channel and one of the nation’s largest petrochemical complexes. The newly-elected congresswoman said her priorities will be “no different than those of the working-class people and immigrants of Houston and the rest of the country.”
Garcia said she will fight for “good jobs with good benefits, jobs that provide opportunities for people to hold their families together.” She advocated Tuesday for increasing the federal minimum wage, and she voiced concern that companies in her district “come and invest here, but then transfer workers from other regions instead of hiring our workers.”
“I want to bring more investments and jobs, but with a higher (share of) hiring for our people here,” she said.
Garcia’s district is about 78 percent Hispanic, the majority of Mexican heritage, making immigration one of her constituency’s central issues of concern.
She said she will sponsor legislation to provide a permanent solution for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects from deportation certain young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as minors. The DACA program, which polling indicates is supported by a strong majority of Americans, was suspended by President Donald Trump’s administration. Its fate is currently entangled in court battles.
Garcia said another priority will be to sponsor legislation bringing comprehensive immigration reform back to the table.
“My mission is to bring the voice of Texas and my big district to Congress,” she said. “This is a very critical time for our country, when our core values are being challenged every single day with a president that seems to govern by tweets and by targeting immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, women, everyone that looks different. People have had enough. I am going to represent them.”
Nearly 750 miles west of Garcia’s celebration Tuesday, Escobar, a former judge and county commissioner, was also expected to easily dispatch her Republican opponent, Rick Seeberger. Escobar was running for the seat occupied by U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who earned the state’s Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate this year.