Mayra Flores and Vicente Gonzalez set for rematch; State District 37 Dems head to runoff

LEFT: Supporters of Republican Mayra Flores are seen Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at Burns Elementary in Brownsville. RIGHT: A campaign sign for Democratic incumbent Vicente Gonzalez is seen Tuesday, March 5, 2024, on Alton Gloor in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)
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Nearly two years after a showdown grabbing the national stoplight, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Brownsville, and former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores are locked in a rematch in November’s general election after she defeated a crowded field of challengers in the Republican primary.

With 44.9% of precincts reporting at 9:45 p.m., Flores, a respiratory care practitioner from San Benito, had won 9,231 votes, or 83.87%, defeating Dr. Laura Cisneros, a Brownsville oncologist; Mauro Garza, a businessman; and Gregory Kunkle Jr., a cyber security specialist.

While Cisneros was drawing 859 votes, or 7.80%, Garza was picking up 555 votes, or 5.04%, while Kunkle was falling short with 361 votes, or 3.28%.

Gonzalez, who’s bidding for a second term in Congressional District 34, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

In a highly contested race for state District 37’s House seat, Republican state Rep. Janie Lopez, who ran unopposed, faces the winner of a Democratic runoff election.

With 69.9% of precincts reporting, former District 33 state Rep. Alex Dominguez was pulling 1,461 votes, or 27.7%; Brownsville attorney Jonathan Gracia was drawing 1,429 votes, or 27.16%; Ruben Cortez, a former state Board of Education member, was taking 1,378 votes, or 26.19%; and San Benito City Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez was picking up 994 votes, or 18.89%.

In November, 2022, Lopez, a former San Benito school board member, defeated Harlingen businessman Luis Villarreal to become the first Republican Hispanic woman to win a state House seat in South Texas.

Like Flores, Lopez was riding the crest of the Republican’s 2022 “Red Tsunami,” as Valley Latinas led the GOP’s push into Texas’ heavily Mexican-American Democratic stronghold.

After winning a special election to fill resigning Democrat Filemon Vela’s seat in June 2022, Flores, portraying herself as a symbol of the American dream, became the first Mexican-born woman to win a congressional seat and the first Republican in more than 150 years to represent District 34, stretching from Brownsville and Harlingen into Hidalgo County to the brushlands south of Corpus Christi.

Across the country, the spotlight is back on the race as Republicans pump millions into Flores’ campaign carrying the banner “God, family and country,” portraying the party’s South Texas sweetheart as the embodiment of the GOP’s drive into the Valley’s traditional Democratic bastion, where it’s made inroads among Mexican-Americans in the last 10 years.

In February, Flores, whose platform calls for tougher border security, stood up for the return of mandatory DNA testing for migrants, a policy under former President Donald Trump’s administration which carried into President Joe Biden’s term despite being widely criticized after leading to the separation of thousands of migrant children from parents or guardians detained and prosecuted for illegal entry.

In a heated November 2022 general election, Gonzalez, a McAllen attorney who had switched to the District 34 race after winning District 15’s Congressional seat in 2017, pulled about 53% of the vote to defeat Flores despite heavy Republican support.

During his campaign, Gonzalez touted a platform in which he vowed to work to draw higher-paying jobs, calling for a living wage while supporting boosting Texas-Mexico border trade.

On campaign stumps, he called for an expansion of Social Security and Medicare, improvement of the Affordable Care Act and lower prescription drug prices while pushing for a Valley veterans hospital and working to boost veterans’ mental health funding.

A member of the Committee on Financial Services, Gonzalez also serves on subcommittees including Capital Markets, National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions.

Amid Republican redistricting, in 2021 Gonzalez announced he would run in the District 34 race as Republican Monica De La Cruz pushed to claim his District 15 seat.

In 2020, Gonzalez narrowly defeated her by 50.5% of the vote.

After District 34’s creation resulting from the 2010 Census’ population increases, Vela won its first election in 2012.

In 2021, he resigned amid Republican redistricting.

Now, the district covers 11 counties, including parts of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy.