First-time candidate Jessica Gonzalez wants to unseat Roberto Alonzo in District 104
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
While most of the LGBT candidates running for office entered the race to challenge a conservative opponent who has worked against equal rights, Jessica Gonzalez is facing an entrenched Democrat in her race for Texas House District 104.
Gonzalez said she doesn’t see her race as running against Rep. Roberto Alonzo. She’s simply running for the Legislature as a Democrat in a very blue district.
Alonzo received an A-plus from Equality Texas for his work in the Legislature in 2017. But he has been criticized in Dallas for not voting for Rep. Eric Johnson’s bill to protect voters’ rights.
Senior citizens in West Dallas using mail-in ballots were defrauded by individuals who tried to influence their votes. Johnson tried to address the scam with his legislation. Alonzo, whose district includes part of West Dallas, voted against the bill.
“There’s a general sense of frustration for him not voting for Eric’s bill in the district,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also pointed out that Alonzo voted for a bill that stripped Denton of its right to ban fracking within its own city limits.
She said that one of the few places in Dallas where fracking companies wanted to drill was at the Dallas Naval Air Station, which lies entirely within District 104.
Gonzalez said the incumbent is also on the wrong side of the gentrification debate. Just as Omar Narvaez ousted Monica Alonzo from the Dallas City Council over that West Dallas issue, she hopes to beat Roberto Alonzo on that same issue.
Another topic resonating in her district is SB 4, the sanctuary cities law that forces local law enforcement agencies to do the work of federal immigration officers.
“So many people are terrified,” Gonzalez said. “They’re scared to go to the grocery store. Scared to go pick up their kids from school.”
Gonzalez, who’s an attorney, said she’s had clients move out of state because they were so scared after the passage of SB 4.
Finally, she said she’s challenging Alonzo because he hasn’t been engaged with his constituents. “Why didn’t we have town halls?” she questioned.
Gonzalez started her political career as a Stonewall Democrats board member. She left Dallas to attend law school and became secretary of the organization when she returned after also spending time working as a White House intern and then as an Obama campaign organizer in 2012.
In the White House, Gonzalez worked with the senior advisor on immigration policy. She worked on a memo to the president laying out options that would become the DACA program.
The Obama campaign saw a paper she had written on voting rights, recruited her and sent her to Nevada, where she created a statewide plan. Among her jobs was to connect with county voter registrars and hold them accountable, create training materials for poll workers, recruit attorneys and do grassroots campaign organizing. Obama won the state’s six electoral votes.
After the campaign, Gonzalez returned home to Dallas where she went to work for attorney Domingo Garcia. After a few years, she opened her own firm with a partner with the understanding that she might run for political office.
“Running for office is something I always thought about,” Gonzalez said. And she always wanted to run right where she grew up, so she bought a house in the Lake Cliff section of Oak Cliff.
After the disastrous 2017 legislative session ended, she attended a briefing Alonzo gave calling 2017 “overall it was a good session.” Gonzalez said that’s when her business partner looked at her and said, “You gotta do this.”
“Everything fell into place,” and her campaign began, Gonzalez said.
Since then, she’s been knocking on doors and rounding up endorsements. So far, Dallas City Council members Omar Narvaez, Scott Griggs and Adam Medrano have endorsed her campaign. So has the Dallas Morning News.
But her parents are among her biggest supporters.
She said her mom has always been a big supporter. When Gonzalez was bullied in high school and had her car and her locker vandalized, her mother took her to get her hair cut into a very short, butch hairdo, telling her, “If they’re going to judge you for that, you don’t need people like that in your life.”
In college Gonzalez said she found herself defending a transgender friend. “It made me furious,” she said, describing the treatment her friend endured. The episode prompted her to work to update the school’s nondiscrimination policies to include gender identity.
Gonzalez’s campaign is different from those of other LGBT candidates for state legislature. Finn Jones has no primary opponent in his Mid-Cities race and will challenge Tea Party incumbent Tony Tinderholt in the fall. Julie Johnson, who has received a broad range of endorsements from the LGBT Victory Fund to the Dallas Morning News, will face the author of the bathroom bill, should she win her primary.
But Gonzalez only has to win her primary. Although she’s among the candidates Republicans are trying to force off the Democratic Primary ballot, the winner in March faces no opposition in November in this heavily blue district.