Ordaz Perez, Art Fierro side by side

District 79 state Rep. Art Fierro and district 76 state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez.

In a ruling signed well after usual courthouse hours on Friday, Jan. 7, El Paso’s Eighth Court of Appeals denied District 79 state Rep. Art Fierro’s request for an order to keep District 76 state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez from running against him.

Both are Democrats, and the new boundary lines for District 76 drawn by the Texas Legislature last year will leave El Paso County with four state representatives instead of five in 2023, after this year’s Nov. 8 elections.

As a result of the House redistricting process, the home where Ordaz Perez and her husband, former El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez, have lived at 649 Londonderry wound up in state Rep. Lina Ortega’s District 77.

Ordaz Perez was “districted out” – a term used to describe what happens when the district or precinct of an elected official is eliminated or moved in the redistricting process that follows the national census every decade.

Sometimes, getting districted out is a natural part of the redistricting process, especially if significant population changes were found in the census.

While that was the case in Texas, getting districted out was apparently Ordaz Perez’s punishment last year for not returning to Austin from Washington, D.C., and taking her seat in the Texas House to help establish a quorum so the Republican majority could push through voting changes and other legislation that Democrats opposed.

Democratic House members broke quorum during last year’s legislative session in Austin and fled to Washington in an attempt to keep the Texas House from acting on the voting changes sought by Gov. Greg Abbott.

At the time, a political consultant told El Paso Inc. that Ordaz Perez had been warned that she would lose her seat if she did not return to Austin for the special sessions called by Abbott.

While Ordaz Perez stayed in Washington, Fierro was among the Democrat representatives who eventually returned to Austin, allowing the Texas House to resume the legislative session and pass the governor’s waiting legislation.

Perez said she was aware of the threat, but chose not to return to Austin until other members of the delegation did. So, she lost her seat and Fierro kept his.

“That was exactly the calls I was getting,” she said. “I was like, so you want me to come back early and sell my soul practically? How am I going to be able to look at myself in the mirror?”

Fierro said he and some other Democrats returned not because they had also been threatened but because “we did what the goals were.”

“Some people decided they wanted to stay in Washington, and they did,” he said. “One of the reasons I came back was because we were in the midst of the delta variant. That was really taking off.”

He added that redistricting changes in El Paso County’s House district boundaries were inevitable because while El Paso’s population did grow some, the census showed that Central Texas’s population was exploding.

Rather than running against Rep. Ortega, Ordaz Perez moved into a house at 11372 David Carrasco she’d owned for years that has served as her mother’s residence and claimed it as her and her husband’s new legal residence.

That residence is in Fierro’s District 79, so he will face Ordaz Perez in the March 8 Democratic primary election, and the winner will take the seat because there is no Republican candidate.

But Fierro didn’t let it happen without a fight.

Represented by the law firm of Rene Ordoñez, Fierro challenged the legitimacy of Ordaz Perez’s candidacy, claiming she had changed her address too late to run in the March primary or the Nov. 8 general election.

The Ordoñez firm sought a writ of mandamus from the appeals court ordering Dora Oaxaca, El Paso County’s Democratic Party chair, not to put Ordaz Perez’s name on the ballot as a candidate for District 79 in the primary.

Oaxaca responded to Fierro last month, saying, “Your request for rejection of the application for a place on the general primary ballot for Claudia Ordaz Perez … will not be accepted.”

On the evening of Jan. 7, the appeals court issued a ruling that Ordaz Perez had changed her residence more than a year before the November election, as required by the Texas Constitution, and has the right to seek the Democratic nomination for the District 79 seat in the Texas House in March.

Fierro, who previously served on El Paso Community College’s elected board and is serving his first, two-year term in the House, won’t appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. But he’s not happy that Ordaz Perez moved to challenge him in the primary.

“I still think that we were right in the sense that it’s more of a carpet-bagging issue to move where it suits you rather than to represent the people where you live,” Fierro told El Paso Inc. “Had I been districted out, I wouldn’t have moved to my in-law’s house to run.”

Asked what he’ll do now, Fierro said, “We’re going to do what we’ve been doing all along, and that’s knocking on doors, talking to constituents, answering their calls and concerns.

“I look forward to serving District 79 in the 88th session in January 2023 when I get sworn in. Nothing’s changed. The campaign is moving forward. We’re doing what we were doing before the lawsuit, and we’ll continue.”

Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at dcrowder@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 630-6622.


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