AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As elected officials and their staff prepare for the 86th Legislative Session to start in less than two weeks, the six new state senators are gearing up for their first time serving in the upper chamber.
Republicans Pat Fallon and Angela Paxton, and Democrats Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson all earned their seats in the November midterms. Two members, Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, were each chosen by voters during special elections to replace their predecessors.
Focusing local but thinking big
“Certainly getting sworn in early, I think that is going to give us a little advance in getting ready to get to work to start filing bills and tackling the issues that are important to Senate District 6 and the state of Texas,” Alvarado said. She was sworn in on Dec. 21 to fill the seat left vacant by Sylvia Garcia, who was elected to Congress earlier this year.
Alvarado said her 10 years as a state representative and time as a Houston City Council member before that have prepared her to focus on local issues and know how to work with colleagues on tackling big-picture problems like school funding and property tax reform.
“You can’t talk about these issues separately,” she said. “You have to approach in a very comprehensive way because one affects the other.”
“We have to change the way we fund our public education system,” she explained. “The courts have already ruled against us a few times and they’ve said ‘You’ve got to get it right.’ It’s just barely constitutional. Our school districts are paying the price. HISD’s recapture payment is about $272 million. And now coming into the Senate I have more districts that I have to be accountable to and also have to look after their interests.”
Though Alvarado is a self-proclaimed bipartisan, she faces an uphill political battle in the Senate behind a Republican supermajority.
“I think I’ve developed a pretty good track record of working across the aisle,” she said with a smile. “I’m optimistic about the members coming in.”
‘Let’s get some things done’
Flores, the other member picked during a special election, was elected in September to replace Carlos Uresti, who was sentenced to prison on 11 felonies, including money laundering and fraud. Flores hopes to turn a new leaf in the sprawling district, which spans from San Antonio, extends along the Mexican border and ends west of Pecos.
“Let’s get some things done,” Flores said. He campaigned on what he calls the “meat and potatoes” issues, like public safety, transportation and education, and said he expects lawmakers to dive into property taxes first when they convene.
“No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, that is incumbent upon us to address these big ticket items, property tax reform and public school finance, first,” said Flores, a retired Game Warden Colonel.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have both Democrats and Republicans vote for me, but they voted for me because … my campaign was about the big-ticket items,” Flores stated. “Because that’s what’s important to them. And that’s important to me, and I believe the tone is that’s what’s important to us in the Senate.”
“As long as we stay focused on the core items and get the meat and potatoes one and not get swayed off of those issues, we will be okay,” he explained, not ruling out surprises.
“You just never know, you just never know what comes up,” Flores mentioned.
Flores has already pre-filed legislation focusing on property tax valuation protests. Senate Bill 211, which has a history of prior attempts in the legislature, would allow justices of the peace to hear property tax valuation protests instead of property owners having to take those protests to a district court.
Flores is the first Hispanic Republican in the state senate and is the first Republican to represent Senate District 19 in over a century. He said he hopes to make a generational impact, rather than put temporary bandage fixes on issues.
“When we benefit Texas benefits, and when Texas benefits, America benefits,” Flores said, explaining why the retired public servant wanted to serve in a new way.
Alvarado called her new challenge a lot of “relationship building.”
“Having conversations with members that you might not see eye to eye on issues but finding issues that you can build on, that you can reach some compromise, and sometimes it’s not a Democrat/Republican, sometimes it’s an urban/rural issue,” she said.
Session starts Jan. 8.