Meet the candidates, part 6: Texas State House District 74

TRI-COUNTY — Welcome to part six of our meet-the-candidates series. Primary voting is on March 3. Residents can make sure they’re on the voter rolls by contacting the Presidio County tax assessor/collector’s office at 432-729-4081. Early voting has started at the Historic USO Building in Marfa and at the Presidio County annex complex, also known as the old ambulance building in Presidio. Early voting is Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., all the way through Friday, February 28.

This week, we’re turning our focus to an unusual race: the one for Texas State House District 74, a sprawling border district that stretches all the way from Eagle Pass to Hudspeth County. It will be a watched race, though not for the reasons one might expect. It’s a solidly blue district; Republicans haven’t even bothered running a candidate in the general election since 2012. But last year, Democratic incumbent Poncho Nevárez announced he would not seek reelection after he dropped an envelope of cocaine at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and was arrested.

It’s a busier race this election season, with two Republicans and three Democrats running in the primaries. One of those Democrats, Ramsey English Cantu, has had a rough ride so far. The Texas Democratic Party disqualified him in December after a Democratic contender, Eddie Morales, complained he was mayor of Eagle Pass and therefore not eligible, according to the Eagle Pass Business Journal. But Cantu had already resigned. He filed a federal lawsuit against the party and won, and now he’s back in the race.

We reached out to all five candidates to give them a chance to participate in this survey. Two of them, Republican candidate Robert Garza and Democratic candidate Ramsey English Cantu, did not get us a response by press time. Cantu wasn’t sent a survey until after the other candidates because he wasn’t initially a candidate. We held this series for a week to give Cantu more time to respond, but he did not ultimately return a survey to us. Here are those candidates in their own words. These interviews have been edited for style and brevity.



Introduce yourself. Why are you running for office?

I was born and raised in Del Rio, Texas. I am a 1996 Del Rio High School graduate, a 1999 graduate with a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Sul Ross State University-Rio Grande College and a 2004 graduate of Sul Ross State University with a Masters of Arts in Public Administration with Honors. I have worked in state, municipal, and county government for the last 18 years and in multimedia-marketing/mass-communications over the last 19 years. Specifically, I have worked for the City of Del Rio as marketing coordinator, assistant parks and recreation director and assistant to the city manager, and as the political director and community office-director for Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio, Texas. I am currently the emergency management coordinator for Val Verde County, as well as the sales manager for MBM Radio. I was also previously a legislative assistant for various Texas lawmakers, including former U.S. congressman and state representative Pete P. Gallego.

I have been a city councilman for the City of Del Rio for 8 years, elected to a city wide position. My wife, Viviana Garza, is a registered nurse. We have been married for 11 years. We have 3 beautiful daughters, ages two, four and seven.

I am running to fight for our fair share of funding to address the issues facing our rural communities. I am also running to serve as a strong link between state agencies and our community. I want to unite the 12 counties in House District 74 and develop a realistic legislative agenda based on a comprehensive plan with targets to achieve each community’s goals in a timely fashion.

What are the top two issues for you? 

Public education funding, with a focus on a pay increase for teachers. Access to healthcare and making healthcare more affordable, particularly for children’s health insurance. The first thing we should do is take advantage of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. We are only one of a handful of states that haven’t. That means we are paying taxes and not getting our fair share, which has led Texas — the great state of Texas — to have more children without insurance than any other state in the nation.

The border — both in terms of immigration and trade — is a major political issue here. What are your thoughts on the myriad border issues affecting this region, from undocumented migrants to transmigrantes? 

Certainly, our district’s border issues are some of the most important and challenging ones that we face today. There is much work to be undertaken to achieve the results that we desire and to bring the most positive impacts to our residents and businesses. However, since this area is of not only regional and state but also national interest, we have increasingly more opportunity to refocus our efforts and begin to make some real progress on border issues.

It is very unfortunate that immigration policy in the past has not adequately addressed many of the impacts which remain today. Part of the problem is that immigration is not the same today as it was 20 years ago, as the data indicates Texas border apprehensions are down nearly 50 percent from 20 years ago. However, the makeup of those being apprehended in the last few years is very different. We are now finding many more women and children in our system, and it requires additional agencies and resources to manage it now than it did past decades. The problem has evolved, but our responses have not.

As a representative for our district, my biggest concern for immigration in our region is that far too much of the cost of securing the national border (which neighbors our community) is not being supported with federal dollars. Many of these costs are being passed on to our state government, which then reduces other programs in order to fund border security, which in turn negatively impacts our local governments.

As state representative for our district, I will first and foremost seek to ensure a stringent and comprehensive review of all costs associated with border security. I will then commit to eliminating or reducing those costs, thereby making those funds available for other needs in our region. Texas’s already stressed budgets should not be picking up the tab for critically important (and expensive) national responsibilities, such as security of the international border between the U.S. and Mexico. District 74 is located in one of the United States’ most critical and strategic locations. I will leverage our unique and important position to reduce financial burdens on our families, and to ensure our schools and infrastructure are receiving the security and protections they require.

Rural healthcare is hard to access in our area and across Texas. What efforts would you make to serve your constituents’ healthcare needs and access to specialty care?

Last year, 20 percent of all failing rural hospitals in the country were in Texas. An obvious reason for this is the failure of our state to choose to expand Medicaid. I will be a fighter for expanding access to care, including expanding Medicaid. Additionally, we should increase reimbursement levels and offer loan forgiveness to medical professionals who choose to serve underserved rural populations. We as a state need to meet the medical needs of rural Texas. We need to offset the cuts to Medicaid. The vast majority of hospitals and clinics in rural areas treat individuals who rely on the federal government.

We need to offer more grants to help health-care facilities implement technology-based services and telemedicine to ease the burden of traveling on patients. We also need to expand the rural training track for doctors in Texas and incentivize doctors to focus their practice in rural communities. Finally, we must work at all levels of government — together — to make sure that transportation to healthcare services is free or affordable and very responsive to all people in our region. I will stand ready to advocate for healthier communities.


Introduce yourself. Why are you running for office?

My name is Eddie Morales and I am running for state representative for Texas House District 74. I am a lifelong resident of South Central Texas. I was born in Piedras Negras and moved to Eagle Pass as a child. I grew up in Las Quintas, one of the noted “border colonias” in the state. I graduated with honors from Eagle Pass High School in 1993 and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 with a major in political science and a double minor in business and Spanish. I continued my studies at St. Mary’s Law School and successfully passed the Texas Bar Exam before graduating in 2000.

I am the proud owner of the Piedras Negras Tortilla Factory, which has become a popular food destination in Eagle Pass and the surrounding communities. It is a family business, now in its 32nd year of operation, serving Mexican meat delicacies and tortilla products. I also own and manage apartments, commercial properties, industrial warehouses and a small construction company. In addition, I am a senior partner at Langley & Banack, Inc. Attorneys at Law with 72 attorneys and six offices in South Central Texas. I manage the Eagle Pass office with my law practice focused on providing legal counsel to municipalities, governmental entities, as well as business and transactional matters. I am a trial litigator representing individuals and companies sued in the region and those involved in catastrophic accidents with serious injuries. Most importantly, I am not a career politician. I am self-funding the majority of my campaign to show my commitment to the citizens of House District 74.

I believe that my small business experience and work ethic makes me the best qualified candidate to serve as your state representative. I will work hard to continue to listen to the citizens of the district about the issues most important to them and then fight for their interests in Austin. My relationships, experience as a small business owner and educational achievements have all prepared me to be the most effective advocate for the interests of these 12 counties.

What are the top two issues for you?

There are many issues facing House District 74 and it is difficult to single out two issues. However, having visited with elected officials and citizens across all 12 counties, it is clear that time and time again, the focus of many revolved around roadway infrastructure and providing quality educational opportunities to our youth.

Roadway access between communities, through a modernized roadway transportation network, is absolutely essential for the safety of our citizens and the growth of our communities. This critical infrastructure connects communities and serves as a catalyst for job growth and employment opportunities. As your state representative, I’ll fight for more of our state TxDOT resources to be allocated here. Our local cities and counties cannot afford significant infrastructure investments alone, and we need a fighter in Austin to ensure the state invests in our region.

A major part of strengthening our labor workforce in the region should be focused on the continued support for adequate funding of our Sul Ross State University system by making sure that adequate infrastructure, personnel, courses, and relevant degrees are being offered not only at the main branch, but  equally importantly to the satellite branches. Not everyone is destined to attend a four-year university, and we must seek greater resources for the expansion of technical and trade-school opportunities for our citizens in the district. Our economy cannot grow without a skilled workforce. Our students deserve more opportunities. The time to invest in tomorrow’s workforce is now.

The border — both in terms of immigration and trade — is a major political issue here. What are you thoughts on the myriad border issues affecting this region, from undocumented migrants to transmigrantes?

I support controlled and secured borders using a combination of manpower, advanced border security technology, and — in some rare instances, depending on whether it makes financial sense — physical boundaries. I fully support legal immigration, expanding worker visa permits and bracero-type visas for farming and agriculture. I would also ask that Congress create a legalized pathway towards expedited but controlled citizenship for those that follow our immigration policies. As state representative, I would encourage my federal counterparts to immediately address the country’s much-needed immigration reform policies to put an end to this issue being used to stir up the respective political bases rather than finding solutions to the issue itself. International border trade and commerce is a critical element to growing local and state economic conditions. The border region is the largest contributor to the state’s economy. I believe that the state should provide greater resources to modernize our ports of entry and transportation infrastructure, which would support the transportation of produce and manufactured goods throughout the state as well as increase our interstate commerce reach. The state has the land, resources, and manpower to be the global leader when it comes to international border trade and commerce.

Rural healthcare is hard to access in our area and across Texas. What efforts would you make to serve your constituents’ healthcare needs and access to specialty care?

Rural healthcare is a top priority specifically for District 74. As I visited with citizens throughout the district, I noted and discussed a recent news article where six of the 12 counties have three or less physicians. Three counties within the district have zero physicians servicing their communities.

All constituents should have access to quality and affordable healthcare. I support the expansion of clinics and a variety of healthcare provider options, which may include physicians, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and technology-supported healthcare services. The state should expand Medicaid funds to draw down additional federal dollars in order to increase reimbursement rates for physician services. We must also focus on increased funding for women’s healthcare and increased access to cancer screenings and mammograms.

I would author and support legislation that would focus on specific funding, scholarships and grant opportunities for local communities to recruit local talent interested in the medical profession and willing to return to service their community. Focusing on local talent within the community will increase retention of those professionals, since they tend to then have families and feel vested in the community they grew up in.



Introduce yourself. Why are you running for office?

I am a fiscal conservative from Fort Stockton running for Texas House District 74.

I am pro-life, pro-Second amendment, pro-constitutional carry, pro-business and pro-private property. And with over 20 years of elected and appointed city and county service, I strongly believe in local control.

I am running for several reasons. Firstly, I feel the values of the citizens of our district are not being represented and our voice and concerns are falling on deaf ears. Secondly,  I strongly feel that with the support of our Republican state leadership, a Republican representative from this district would have the upper hand in getting our issues and concerns solved.

What are the top two issues for you?

Property tax relief and reform. Property taxes are too high and continue to rise with little to no recourse. I want everyone to pay for the expenses of operating this state, not just property, home- and business-owners. I would prefer a consumption-based tax to replace property taxes. In a consumption-based system, everyone would contribute — not just property, home- and business-owners.

With unfunded mandates, the Texas state legislature is passing its expenses down to counties, cities and school districts. The legislature sends new laws for police, jails and education but does not include funding. If elected, I would support a constitutional amendment to make unfunded mandates unconstitutional.

The border — both in terms of immigration and trade — is a major political issue here. What are you thoughts on the myriad border issues affecting this region, from undocumented migrants to transmigrantes?

First of all, TxDOT needs to hand over ownership of the international bridge over to the city of Presidio. Presidio and its citizens need the revenue generated to fund its basic city operations. I would support any measure from the U.S. government that would secure our border, especially in terms of increasing pay and benefits to retain our veteran officers and incentives to recruit new ones.

Rural healthcare is hard to access in our area and across Texas. What efforts would you make to serve your constituents’ healthcare needs and access to specialty care?

Rural healthcare is also one of my top issues, an issue that I believe could benefit from a restructured property tax system. I was the chair of the committee that brought dialysis to Pecos County Memorial Hospital, which made it a little easier for the citizens of West Texas to get treatments. I was also on the committee that brought the veteran’s clinic to Fort Stockton, again making it easier for our veterans to get care. If elected, I will work to improve the healthcare options for all in the district.