In what observers see as an attempt to help Republicans flip the long Democrat-held State Senate district being vacated by convicted felon Carlos Uresti, Gov. Abbott has called a special election for July 31st, and says filing for the seat will begin on Monday, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Uresti resigned earlier this week ahead of his sentencing next week on eleven counts of fraud related to his work for a bogus fracking company that prosecutors say ripped off investors. Uresti is set to stand trial later this year on unrelated bribery charges relating to a contract in Reeves County, in west Texas.
In his letter of resignation, Uresti urged Abbott to 'save taxpayer money' by setting the special election for November 6, which is the same day of the mid-term elections, but Abbott rejected that and took a slap at Uresti in the process.
“The indictment and ultimate conviction of Senator Uresti for fraud and money laundering has already left District 19 without effective representation in the Texas Senate for over a year. With the 86th Legislative Session approaching, and ongoing interim legislative committee hearings, it is imperative to fill this vacancy to ensure that Senate District No. 19 is fully represented as soon as possible," Abbott said.
The snap election gives the Republicans the best chance they have had in decades to grab the State Senate seat, which was held by fellow Democrat Gregory Luna, and before him Democrat Frank Tejeda.
Analysts point out that two strong Democrats with widespread name recognition and a robust ability to raise money, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and former Congressman and long time State Rep. Pete Gallego, have announced their intention to run for the seat.
So far, no Republican has announced plans to run, but observers point out that if Republicans decide on a single candidate and organize behind that candidate, they can use the inevitable tiny turnout of the July 31st election, when only this one State Senate seat will be on the ballot, to split the Democrat vote.
In a special election, Republicans and Democrats run together.
There is precedent for this move. When Lyndon Johnson resigned from the U.S. Senate to become Vice President in 1961, Republican John Tower was able to grab the seat in a low-turnout special election where several strong Democrats, from Henry B. Gonzalez to Maury Maverick to future House Speaker Jim Wright, to win the seat.
That victory broke decades of Democrat one party rule in Texas and set the stage for today's near dominance of Texas politics by the GOP.