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Stars aligning for 2010 political rematch

By Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
Published On: Sep 27 2013 10:56:49 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 16 2014 02:12:03 PM CST

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

The political matchup that had everyone talking in 2010 could resurface in 2014.

In 2010, Norma Chavez was the incumbent District 76 Texas House representative. She had represented El Paso for 14 years before she was ousted by Naomi Gonzalez in the primary. The biggest news that year wasn't the outcome, it was the way the matchup unfolded.

Chavez made public comments that later drew an apology. During a campaign event with both women, Chavez said she had not attacked Gonzalez for "being a lesbian, gay woman." Local Democrats holding office at the time issued a joint statement condemning the tactic. Chavez apologized but chalked it up to a reaction from numerous negative attacks from Gonzalez.

Gonzalez's time at the Capitol ran much smoother. She was named freshman of the year by the Mexican American legislative caucus. In her first and second terms, she enjoyed one of the highest bill passage rates in Texas. Gonzalez was considered a rising star.

In March, the light dimmed on Gonzalez. She made headlines across the state after an arrest tied to a car crash in Austin. A police report stated that Gonzalez had been drinking before getting behind the wheel. Gonzalez was accused of hitting a car into a bicyclist, sending one person to a hospital. She later apologized on the Texas House floor.

That incident likely opened the door for a competitive run at her spot. According to Dr. Gregory Rocha, a University of Texas at El Paso political science professor, a perceived weakness will invite others to join the race. Last year, Gonzalez ran unopposed. This year, it appears Norma Chavez will make a second run at the position.

"For it to be somebody that once held the seat, it will be a race that I'm sure will be watched not just locally but statewide," said Rocha.

Chavez hasn't formally announced her intentions but has leaked the information to her fans on Facebook and Twitter. In an email to ABC-7, Chavez said a formal announcement is coming soon.

"I have a solid record passing legislation important to the state and El Paso," said Chavez. "I stand ready to work with the elected leadership of El Paso to advance a pro El Paso agenda."

Gonzalez has stated she intends to run for office in 2014.  Asked whether she thought her crash in Austin could become campaign material, Gonzalez said she couldn't speculate.

"If people use it against me, that's their choice," said Gonzalez. "I hope people find it in their hearts to forgive me for what took place. You know, I just convey that mistakes happen, and we just have to ask for forgiveness."

Gonzalez said her campaign would focus on her accomplishments during the past two legislative sessions. Her work tied to women's rights and to help El Paso's Texas Tech campus become a standalone university top her list of accomplishments.

A third name is expected to be tossed into the ring. Cesar Blanco, a chief of staff for U.S. House Rep. Pete Gallego, is said to be considering a run. He hasn't announced, either, but those close to him say it remains a possibility.

Blanco would be the biggest wildcard in the bunch -- Rocha said El Paso has a long history of turning its back on officials who've lost re-election and come back for another attempt, however, he notes this election could be different.

"(Chavez) has organizing skills and experience.  If she goes back to those roots, that's going to be interesting to see how she does," said Rocha.

As for Gonzalez, Rocha said a lot will ride on the way voters react to her apology and whether she can get financial support.  Gonzalez told ABC-7 she feels confident that she has support both locally and across Texas.

Candidates cannot yet turn in paperwork for the March ballot, however, campaigns can begin operating ahead of time. A clearer picture of the names racing for a spot should develop beginning in early November.

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