Since being elected in 2002, State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez (D–Weslaco) has spent all but two election cycles running unopposed by the GOP. His voting record, perhaps as a byproduct of that history, has been consistent as a reliable Democrat vote for liberal priorities. Now, only months after Martinez fled to Washington, D.C., with House Democrats to try to kill the voter integrity bill, a Republican has filed to challenge him.

Shortly after filing, and prior to an official campaign kickoff in January, Republican Jimmie Garcia, a 31-year-old truck driver from Alamo, spoke to Texas Scorecard to discuss why he is running to represent House District 39. 

“I’ve always been interested in running, but earlier this year, I sat down and started looking into the different seats, and I realized that none of these valley Democrats have been challenged in forever,” said Garcia.

Garcia, a lifelong Rio Grande Valley native, described his faith and family as his biggest influences, expressed his support for a litany of conservative grassroots priorities, and explained why he thinks 2022 could be a big year for the GOP in its outreach to the Hispanic community.

“I think more and more Hispanics are starting to realize—here from the Valley, as well—that the Democratic values are not our values. Everybody claims the GOP is the party of the rich and the Democrats are here to help the poor. I start off with my values. I’m a God-loving Christian, I’m pro-life, and when the people consider that the Democratic values are not aligned with their values, I think it’s a game-changer. I think the Valley is starting to wake up.”

Days after a visit to the site of the first stretch of border wall being built by the State of Texas, where he met with Gov. Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Garcia was quick to list immigration and border security as his first legislative priority, alongside healthcare and infrastructure (in particular, improving the reliability of the state’s electrical grid). He also stressed his support for pro-life issues and his opposition to critical race theory:  “I applaud that they [state Legislature] passed that [critical race theory ban]. I don’t want my daughter to be taught that if she’s not white, then she’s at a disadvantage.”

Garcia also expressed his opposition to vaccine mandates, stating that such decisions should always be left up to the individual.

HD 39’s current representative, Armando “Mando” Martinez, was first elected in 2002. This year, he voted against banning critical race theory in public schools, against banning abortion once a baby’s heartbeat has been detected, and against the constitutional carry of firearms.

Virtually all positions taken by Garcia on hot-button issues stand in stark contrast to those of District 39’s current representative. Notably, Martinez was one of the House Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C., this summer to try to kill the voter election integrity bill, an effort that ultimately failed. Jimmie Garcia told Texas Scorecard he felt that this move by Martinez was disrespectful towards RGV voters and played into Garcia’s decision to run. “It left the people that elected him without a voice in Austin.”

The Rio Grande Valley has become a new battleground as the GOP seeks to capitalize on gains the party made with Hispanic voters nationwide over the past couple of years. The Republican National Committee recently opened a new Hispanic outreach center in McAllen, and the party drafted a slate of fresh faces to challenge the Democratic incumbents. Of the six RGV state House Democrats who were missing or participated in the quorum bust, four of them are being challenged by Republicans in 2022, three of whom are running in Hidalgo County.  

When asked why he’s running, Garcia explained, “I really have just noticed all of the corruption here in the Valley, and a lot of the representatives here have run unopposed for years. I want to provide the people with another option.”

House District 39 occupies the heart of the mid-Valley in Hidalgo County, including Alamo, Donna, Weslaco, Mercedes, and Progresso. Martinez has served as its representative in the state House since 2002.