Houston voters to decide Tuesday between 2 Democrats for Carol Alvarado's Texas House seat

Texas Tribune News

Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales. Jan 29, 2019.
Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales. Jan 29, 2019.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Voters in Houston are choosing today between two Democrats in the special election runoff to replace former Democratic state Rep. Carol Alvarado, now a state senator.

The race has come down to Christina Morales, the president of her family’s well-established funeral home in Houston’s East End, and Melissa Noriega, a former Houston City Council member who temporarily held the House seat years ago. Alvarado vacated the seat last year after winning a promotion to the Texas Senate.

Morales and Noriega were the top two finishers in the initial Jan. 29 contest for House District 145, which included four other Democrats, a Republican and a Libertarian. Morales received 36 percent of the vote, and Noriega got 31 percent.

Since Jan. 29, the two Democrats have doubled down on their respective pitches, with Morales emphasizing her deep roots in the East End and Noriega highlighting her experience and ability to hit the ground running in Austin. Back in 2005, when Noriega’s husband at the time, Rick Noriega, held the seat, she served as his acting representative for eight months while he served overseas in the military.

The tenor of the runoff has largely remained positive after a similarly cordial first round.

The overtime period has nonetheless seen some new developments. U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston — who Alvarado replaced in the state Senate — has stepped up her involvement in Morales’ campaign, recording an ad and appearing at a number of events for her.

Noriega has also campaigned with her own prominent surrogate: former Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Additionally, Noriega won the support of three former Democratic opponents who got a combined 7 percent of the vote in the Jan. 29 election.

Morales has had a financial advantage in the runoff, raising $67,000 from Jan. 20 through Feb. 23 to Noriega’s $42,000. Noriega, though, worked to close the gap, loaning herself $11,000, and the two spent similar amounts during the period.

Five days of early voting wrapped up Friday, and 1,417 people cast ballots in person or by mail, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office. For comparison, there were 1,526 early votes over the 11-day period before the first round.

The winner of the runoff is expected to be sworn in by the end of the month in order to represent the district in the ongoing legislative session, which began in January and ends in May.

Tuesday’s runoff is the latest in a string of special elections for state legislative seats since the midterms. Even after Tuesday, there will still be one more vacancy in the Legislature that needs to be filled. Another special election runoff will be held March 12 to replace former state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, now a Bexar County commissioner. Democrat Ray Lopez and Republican Fred Rangel are on the ballot in that contest, which is taking place in a solidly blue district where the GOP is aiming to pull off an upset.

Polls are open Tuesday in HD-145 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.