Hispanics in Government

Houston Institute for Culture 
By John P. Schmal

Sixty-Second Session (1971-1972)

The 62nd Legislature saw a drop in the number of Tejano representatives. From an all-time high of eleven, the Tejanos saw their numbers drop to nine in the House, while Senator Bernal continued to hold onto his Senatorial Seat.

During this session, many of the Representatives from the 61st Session continued to serve in their districts in Houston, El Paso and Hidalgo County. The one notable addition was that of Dr. Martin E. Garcia, who succeeded J.A. Garcia as Representative of District 46-3 during this session.

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In 1971, with the 1970 census data available, the Texas House and Senate both prepared for a new redistricting effort. The 62nd Legislature turned out to be a very turbulent period in Texas Legislative History, especially after Speaker Gus Mutscher and the House leadership were challenged by a reform coalition of Republicans and liberal Democrats known as the "Dirty Thirty," which included El Paso representative, Paul Moreno, and San Antonio representative, Bob Vale.

Mutscher and his political allies sought to "purge" their opponents in the House Redistricting plan. Although Mutscher and his partners claimed that their redistricting schemes were unavoidable and accidental, most legislators knew better. Mutscher was soon ousted from power and found guilty of accepting a bribe. While the House of Representatives fought over redistricting, the Texas Senate failed to reach agreement on a redistricting plan, so the Legislative Redistricting Board had to be activated to do the job.

In 1972, the reapportionment plan for the senatorial districts in Harris County (Houston) was challenged in Graves v. Barnes. In this case, the plaintiffs challenged the state plan on the grounds that the senatorial districts were racially gerrymandered [GRAVES v. BARNES, 405 U.S. 1201 (1972)].

Then, on June 18, 1973, a three-judge Federal District Court invalidated the House redistricting plan, stating that the proposed reapportionment plan "contained constitutionally impermissible deviations from population equality, and that the multimember districts provided for Bexar and Dallas Counties invidiously discriminated against cognizable racial or ethnic groups" [WHITE v. REGESTER, 412 U.S. 755 (1973)].

The District Court's order requiring disestablishment of the multimember districts in Dallas and Bexar Counties was warranted in view of the long history of political discrimination against both African Americans and Mexican Americans in those counties. Having surveyed the historical condition of Mexican Americans in Bexar County, the Court observed that the Bexar community, along with other Mexican-Americans in Texas had, for a long time, "suffered from, and continues to suffer from, the results and effects of invidious discrimination and treatment in the fields of education, employment, economics, health, politics and others."

The Court further stated that cultural and linguistic barriers made the participation of Mexican Americans difficult. This "cultural incompatibility," the Court declared, "conjoined with the poll tax and the most restrictive voter registration procedures in the nation have operated to effectively deny Mexican-Americans access to the political processes in Texas even longer than the Blacks were formally denied access." As a result, the Court wrote, only five Mexican-Americans since 1880 had served in the Texas Legislature from Bexar County, and only two of these had come from the San Antonio Barrio. With these observations, the Court said that single-member districts would remedy "the effects of past and present discrimination against Mexican-Americans."

However, although the House plan was declared invalid, the Court did permit its use for the 1972 election, except for the injunction order requiring the two county multimember districts to be reconstituted into single-member districts. The White v. Regester litigation represents, even today, one of the most important decisions in Texas history relating to Tejano representation.

Sixty-Third Session (1973-1974)

When the 63rd Texas Legislature convened in 1973, ten Tejano legislators took their seats in the House of Representatives, while Raul Longoria and Tati Santiesteban took their new seats in the Senate. Joe Bernal's tenure in the Senate had ended with the previous session, but the total number of Hispanics in both Chambers had once again reached 12 (as in the 61st Legislature). However, of the ten representatives in the lower chamber, five were newcomers, and Gregory Montoya was a returning delegate.

The first newcomer, Terry Canales, became the first Hispanic person to become the Representative of District 58 (Premont, Jim Wells County) in 1973. Canales served through two terms (1973-1977) and moved on to become a four-term District Court Judge for the 79th Judicial District of South Texas (Jim Wells and Brooks Counties). His daughter, Gabi Canales, later followed in his footsteps as a state representative.

Another Tejano freshman in the House was William N. (Billy) Hall, Jr., who essentially took on Honore Ligarde's former post as a Tejano Representative from Laredo. Billy Hall was elected to serve the 57th District (Laredo, Webb County) and served through seven consecutive sessions (1973-1987).

A new Tejano representative also came on to the scene from the San Antonio area. Joining Representative Vale in representing Bexar County, Joe Hernandez was elected to serve from District 57-J (San Antonio, Bexar County). Representative Hernandez would hold this seat in the Texas House through six consecutive sessions from 1973 to 1985.

Another Tejano representative from San Antonio also took office in the 63rd Legislature. Frank Madla, a native of Helotes, Texas (just outside of San Antonio) had received B.A and M.A. Degrees in Government from St. Maryıs University in San Antonio. Mr. Madla started out as a Junior High School teacher. However, in 1973, he took office as the elected representative of District 57-A (San Antonio).

Representative Madla would serve through ten consecutive sessions (1973-1993), and in 1993, moved to the Texas Senate, where he continues to serve. Representative and Senator Madla has gained a reputation as an outspoken advocate for health care and education issues.

Thanks to recently drawn single member districts, Ben T. Reyes took his seat as Representative of District 87 (Houston, Harris County). A twenty-five-year-old Vietnam veteran, Reyes replaced Lauro Cruz, who had resigned his position to run for Texas State Treasurer. He served through four sessions (1973-1980), representing Houston's Second and Third Wards, Magnolia, and Northside. Gregory Montoya, who had left the House in 1967 returned as the Representative of District 49 (Elsa, Hidalgo County) to serve two more sessions.

In the Senate, Raul L. Longoria moved from the House to serve as the State Senator representing the Rio Grande Valley, becoming the first Tejano to represent south Texas as Senator. He served as State Senator until 1981 when he was elected to the State District Court in Hidalgo County. He served as District Judge for thirteen years until his retirement in 1994.

In 1972, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) was established as a non-profit, non-partisan organization of all the Hispanic members of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate. In 1977, Tejano Senators started their own organization. According to the MALC Constitution, the purpose of the organization was committed "to represent the interests of the Mexican American community of Texas before the Legislature." By 1991/1992, MALC had 26 members, representing about a fifth of the House vote. In 2001, MALCıs membership reached 41, representing just over one fourth of the House vote.

Sixty-Fourth Session (1975-1976)

The 64th Legislative Session saw the largest number of Tejano legislators take their seats in both chambers: Sixteen in all. While Senators Longoria and Santiesteban returned to their seats in the Upper Chamber, fourteen Tejano Representatives took their place in the Lower Chamber.

Although many of the Representatives were holdovers from the previous session, several new delegates took their seats. Born in Galveston in 1941, Gonzalo Barrientos grew up in Bastrop and attended the University of Texas at Austin. In 1974, he was elected as the first Mexican-American to represent District 37-4 (Austin, Travis County). He took office in 1975 and served through five sessions until 1984. Then, in November 1984, Representative Barrientos was elected to the Texas Senate, representing District 14, which included most of Travis County and part of Hays County.

Sixty-Fifth Session (1977-1978)

The Sixty-Fifth Legislative Session represented a milestone in the representation of Tejanos in the Texas Legislature. For the first time ever, three Mexican Americans took their seats in the Texas House: Longoria, Santiesteban, Truan.

A milestone of gender proportions was also reached when Irma Rangel was elected as the first Mexican-American female lawmaker in the Texas Legislature. Born in 1931 in Kingsville, Kleberg County, Irma Rangel had become a schoolteacher and, later, a lawyer. Then in 1976, she became the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives as the delegate from District 49 (Kingsville). Irma Rangel served from the 65th to the 78th Sessions (1977-2003), but died in office in 2003.

Another freshman Representative in the House was Frank Mariano Tejeda. Born in San Antonio in 1945, Frank had dropped out of high school to join the Marines (1963-1967). Serving in the Vietnam War, Tejeda earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. After leaving the service, he continued his education, getting degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale and Harvard Universities.

In 1976, Frank Tejeda was elected to represent the people of District 57-B (San Antonio, Texas) and served through five sessions (1977-1987). He the moved over to the Texas Senate, serving from District 19 (Bexar County) from 1987 to 1992. By 1992, Senator Tejeda had become so popular that no one challenged him when he decided to run for U.S. Congress, as the representative of the 28th District. He served in Congress from 1993 to 1997, when he died in office.

Later Sessions

As the decade of the 1980s began, the number of Tejano elected officials stabilized. Not until the 70th Legislature (1987-1988) did the number of Hispanic legislators in Austin reach 25. With 19 Representatives in the House and six senators in the Upper Chamber, Latinos now felt that they had a strong voice in their own destiny, even though there was a belief that redistricting in some parts of Texas was still not favorable to minorities.

Probably the most notable addition to the Legislature in the 70th Legislature was election of Judith Zaffirini as the first Mexican-American woman to serve in the Texas Senate. Representing District 21 (Bexar County and several border counties), Senator Zaffirini would be reelected three times. She achieved a perfect attendance record and voting record, casting more than 15,000 consecutive votes during six regular and 12 special sessions. As a result, she was honored with more than 250 awards for her professional and legislative performance.

At the first election following the turn of the century (November 2000), Hispanic representatives from the State of Texas to the U.S. Congress numbered six delegates (five Democrats and one Republican). The number of Hispanics in the Texas Senate had increased to seven, while the number of Tejano Representatives in the House reached 28. In the next election (November 2002), the number of Tejanos in the House would reach a new milestone: 30 Representatives.

The struggle for Tejano Representation in Texas has been a long drawn-out affair. The gains of Mexican American Texans in both the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress were, for the most part, achieved by individuals who had already served their country as soldiers fighting for freedom. These soldiers, as veterans, returned home to take part in a new struggle for freedom: the struggle for representation.

İ Copyright, by John P. Schmal, All Rights Reserved. Read more articles by John Schmal.


Steve Bickerstaff, ³Effects of the Voting Rights Act on Reapportionment and Hispanic Voting Strength in Texas,² Texas Hispanic Journal of Law & Policy (The University of Texas School of Law), Vol. 6, No. 1 (Summer 2001), 99-122.

Robert Cuellar, A Social and Political History of the Mexican American Population of Texas, 1929-1963 (San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1974).

Leroy Hardy, Alan Heslop and Stuart Anderson (eds.), Reapportionment Politics: The History of Redistricting in the 50 States (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1981).

Malcolm E. Jewell, The Politics of Reapportionment (New York: Atherton Press, 1962).

Al Luna, The Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (Austin: Texas Legislative Counsel, 1987).

Robert B. McKay, Reapportionment: The Law and Politics of Equal Representation (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1965).

Useful Website:
[Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995: Table of Contents]

John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend Donna Morales, he coauthored "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002). He has degrees in History (Loyola-Marymount University) and Geography (St. Cloud State University) and is a board member of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research (SHHAR). He is an associate editor of SHHAR's online monthly newsletter, John is presently collaborating with illustrator Eddie Martinez on a manuscript entitled "Indigenous Mexico: Past and Present."