US Senate candidate Roland Gutierrez and local county attorney candidate Rod Ponton host campaign event at Marfa Burrito

U.S. Senate candidate Roland Gutierrez — who is running to unseat incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz — stopped in Marfa this week to meet with locals over breakfast at Marfa Burrito. He discussed political issues central to his campaign including gun violence prevention, healthcare and more. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), a U.S. Senate candidate challenging incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Houston), and local Presidio county attorney candidate Rod Ponton held a campaign meet and greet Monday morning at Marfa Burrito.

The restaurant — warm and homey, with colorful tablecloths and graffiti-cluttered walls — offered an informal setting for the approximate 20 attendees to rub shoulders with the candidates over breakfast burritos and coffee. Gutierrez visited the Big Bend — first Alpine, then Marfa — on his multi-day West Texas tour that started in Amarillo and ended in El Paso.

His event co-host, Ponton, has served as Presidio county attorney for 10 years and is going up against local attorney Blair Park in the March 5 Democratic Primary. In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Ponton said he was going door to door campaigning and was eager to continue to serve the people of Presidio County. 

He argued his legal experience and connections in the state Capitol set him apart. “I have a lot of experience in government law, representing cities and districts, counties,” Ponton said. “I have a lot of friends in Austin, like Roland Gutierrez and others.”

Ponton introduced those gathered to his “good friend” of 12 years Gutierrez, a Texas Senator that represents part of Brewster County running in the Democratic Primary for a chance to face off against Cruz in the November General Election. “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get rid of Ted Cruz,” Gutierrez said at the start of his stump speech, eliciting applause from the crowd. Gutierrez, 53, wore his salt and pepper hair in a clean swoop and spoke with a familiar Texas drawl. 

Gutierrez, who also represents Uvalde, centered the May 2022 Robb Elementary massacre that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers in his campaign messaging. Following the mass shooting, Gutierrez sued the Texas Department of Public Safety for its refusal to release records related to the event. While the suit was unsuccessful, Gutierrez eventually gained access to the body camera footage and more evidence from the shooting, he said.

He criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s reaction to the deadly shooting, law enforcement’s failure to enter the building for 77 minutes, and argued more needs to be done to prevent gun violence in the wake of such a gruesome attack on innocent children. “I’m running for the United States Senate because we need an assault weapon ban with exceptions, because no child should die this way,” Gutierrez said. “We need extreme risk protective orders. We need universal background checks. And we need an age limit.” 

He argued the country was not only “broken” on gun issues, but also on healthcare, and said he would work to expand access to Medicare. 

Gutierrez also touched on reproductive rights, citing a statistic that infant mortality rates have increased 11% since Texas’ more restrictive abortion laws went into effect. He argued senators need to support necessary filibuster changes to codify Roe v. Wade and restore reproductive freedom. “We must break the filibuster in the Legislature in the United States Senate so that we can finally bring some justice to women across this country,” Gutierrez said. “Because ladies, they want you in shackles, I promise you.” 

Gutierrez criticized Republicans’ border rhetoric, Gov. Abbott-backed Rio Grande buoy placements — which resulted in migrant deaths — and voiced support for immigration reform, including a guest worker program. “I am tired of blaming some poor immigrant looking for a dream for every healthcare and education problem and infrastructure problem, dammit, we should know better,” he said. 

Gutierrez referred to himself as “unapologetically progressive” and emphasized the need to move on from Republican leadership he argued is failing the state. In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, he said he took issue with the “other guy running,” U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas), who refers to himself as a moderate Democrat. “I call it Republican light,” Gutierrez said.

“We’re in an existential crisis where these Trumpers really truly want to divide this country,” he added. “No amount of Republican hand holding or moving towards the middle is going to get us to where we need to be here.” 

Allred is leading Gutierrez 40% to 12% in the Democratic Primary, according to a February 2024 University of Houston poll. He encouraged attendees to get friends, families and neighbors that are apathetic towards the government to the polls. 

“We’ve got to show people what this campaign is about,” he said. “It’s about pain, it’s about the pain of those families in Uvalde that lost their children. The vast majority of them aren’t even partisan things, aren’t Democrat and Republican issues. They’re just human issues.”

The small crowd thanked the politician for his visit as he lingered to chat and shake a few more hands before hitting the road. 

The Sentinel is hosting a forum featuring Presidio County candidates running in the March 5 Primary Election this Saturday, February 10 at the Presidio Senior Center, 1400 E. O’Reilly Street, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The public is invited to attend. Questions for candidates can be emailed ahead of time to [email protected]