The first Hispanic State Senator to represent Harris County, State Senator Mario V. Gallegos, Jr. passed away today surrounded by family members and friends at Methodist Hospital in Houston.
Senator Gallegos was a fighter for his constituents, as well as folks like me who he didn’t necessarily represent. Outspoken, yet a true political tactician on the issues that mattered most to him, Gallegos accomplished much as a State Senator and as a State Representative, leaving behind a progressive record of fighting for those who have been so easily targeted by political forces. In fact, along with his District record, he will be remembered for putting his life on the line in order to be a decisive vote against the 2007 attempt at a Voter ID law.
Gallegos was an outspoken opponent of voter ID laws. In 2007, as the Senate prepared to vote on a bill that would have required Texas voters to show photo ID, Gallegos set up a hospital bed outside the Senate chambers so he could be present to oppose the bill while recovering from a recent liver transplant.
“It’s very important to me,” he said at the time. “I think my constituents feel strongly about this. As long as I can stand, I need to be here.”
And many of us who were not his constituents cheered him on, too. And I consider myself lucky to have personally thanked him for fighting on behalf of Latinos everywhere.
Today, we remember State Senator Mario Gallegos, but we must also thank him for his service. He serves as another example of how Latinos should fight for our community.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, colleagues, and his constituents.
REACTION TO PASSING OF SEN. GALLEGOS – Below
State Senator Rodney Ellis: “Mario was tough, passionate, and dedicated to the cause of building a better Texas. He was a good friend, good man, and tremendous advocate for education and equality. We didn’t always agree, but you always knew where you stood with Mario. When he was on your side, you knew you had a pugnacious and dedicated defender; if he was on the other side, you knew you had to be prepared to vigorously defend your position, because he would fight like a bulldog for what he believed.
State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D) El Paso: He proved that, unforgettably, in 2007, when just a few weeks after a liver transplant he set up outside the Senate Chambers in a hospital bed, knowing his vote was crucial to block a Voter ID bill. He did, and it took four years to pass the unconstitutional law, which the courts ended up striking down. If they would just have listened to Sen. Gallegos, and responded to his remarkable courage, they could have saved the state time, energy and money.
Mayor Annise Parker: I extend condolences to the family of Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos and offer my support t the residents of his district. Sen. Gallegos had a long and dedicated record of service to the people of Houston, both as a firefighter and long-time member of the Texas legislature.
State Senator Kirk Watson, Chair of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus: Mario was always ready. In his nearly 22 years in the Texas Legislature (nearly 18 of those in the Senate), he was firm in his beliefs and resolute in his spirit. He never failed or hesitated to attack the emergencies he saw, even when risking his own life to do it. And his first instinct, in every case, was to protect those who were too often ignored, passed over or even held down by powers greater than themselves. Mario’s commitment to the least of us is one thing so many of us will treasure about his legacy.
Progress Texas: From voting rights to education, from increasing access to health care to improving the lives of the millions of Texans he served over the years, Sen. Gallegos championed the progressive cause throughout his life.
We give thanks for the work he did today, and promise to remember Senator Mario Gallegos and his work in our lives and actions.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia: “The call to public service reached Mario Gallegos early in his life. His first response was to become a first responder – with the Houston Fire Department. He left us as a longtime state senator, a position he used in his gritty, impassioned way to help his fellow residents of Harris County. And he left us too early, creating a void in public advocacy for all of the public, especially those in underserved communities. I join the chorus of condolences to his loving family as we mourn a brother, a servant, a leader and a fighter.”
CM James Rodriguez: I mourn the passing of my good friend State Senator Mario Gallegos. My sympathies are with Mario’s family, friends & staff this evening. Senator Gallegos and I worked closely on numerous projects for the betterment of Senate District 6 & District I as well as the City of Houston. We lost a courageous public servant today. Please join me in prayers for the Gallegos family.
State Rep. Pete Gallego, candidate for Congress-23: Mario opened doors so others could walk through. Conscious of his humble beginnings, Mario set to work to create opportunities for others. Through all the legislative fights, frustrations & controversies, Mario Gallegos maintained a wonderful sense of humor.
State Rep. Armando Walle: Senator Gallegos’ passing leaves an outsized void in the Texas Senate for champions of education, firefighters, law enforcement, and Latino issues. He was a tireless advocate for his district, never afraid to lay himself out to protect his constituents. It was a genuine honor to not only serve with Senator Gallegos in his district, working together to improve our parts of Houston, but to count Mario as a friend as well. I am deeply saddened by today’s loss, and my prayers are with the Senator’s family, friends, and staff during this difficult time.
State Rep. Carol Alvarado: In our darkest moments, when true friends reveal themselves, Mario Gallegos was there. Learned at a young age as a firefighter, Mario’s first instinct was always to rush in and stand in the way of danger for those he loved.
The legacy that Senator Gallegos leaves behind is one of fierce conviction and compassion for his family, his friends, and his community. We lost a giant today…
State Rep. Jessica Farrar: “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Senator Mario Gallegos. Texans have experienced a great loss. Senator Gallegos served faithfully with a heart of gold and a spine of steel. My condolences to his vast family, staff, and countless friends.”
NALEO: “Gallegos’ unwavering commitment to the state of Texas and Harris County will be missed. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.”
Lane Lewis, Chair, Harris County Democratic Party: Senator Gallegos was as much a fighter throughout his illness as he was while serving in the Senate. The people of Harris County were well served by his leadership. When a bad voter suppression bill came up shortly after his liver transplant, he placed a hospital bed outside the Senate Chamber so he could vote against it. He was a good friend and his passion for the average folk was known by all. He will be missed.
Juliet Stipeche, HISD Trustee: May you rest in peace and enjoy the beauty of heaven. Thank you for being such a strong voice and an inspiration to us all. Thank you for rushing into that burning building when everyone one else was running out. Thank you for speaking up for those who were afraid or had no voice. Thank you for being a champion for children and public education. Thank you for being so kind and generous to me and your community. Thank you for giving me strength when I was in doubt. I also thank your wonderful and beautiful family for being so patient, kind and generous, especially your beautiful mother. Thank you to your amazing and beautiful staff who are always there at a moment’s notice. We will continue to pray for you, your family and staff. God Bless you Senator. We love you and miss you.
University of Houston-Downtown: As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, he used his seat to ensure that people have access to higher education. In 1993, there was something called the South Texas/Border Initiative to provide upgrades to universities across the Rio Grande Valley. Then-Representative Gallegos successfully argued that Houston was a part of the border because of our city’s growing Latino population. He was able to get $22 million to expand the University of Houston-Downtown. This expansion along with Mario’s continued advocacy paved the way to make UHD the designated Hispanic-serving institution of higher learning it is today, with a business college offering an MBA, several new departments and many new facilities on campus. When he was in his 50′s, Mario gathered the courage to return to college and graduate from UHD, demonstrating to his constituents both the importance of earning your college degree and that it is never too late to do so.
Gilberto Hinojosa, Chair, Texas Democratic Party: Senator Gallegos’ fierce commitment to Democratic values was never more visible then when he once installed a hospital bed in the office of the sergeant-at-arms at the capitol, against his doctors’ orders, to prevent action on a harmful voter identification bill.
We all owe a debt of gratitude for the service and leadership Senator Gallegos gave us during his life.
Elsa Caballero, State Director, SEIU-1: “In addition to being a great man, Senator Mario Gallegos was a tireless champion for the Hispanic community. Even in declining health, Senator Gallegos worked to block discriminatory anti-immigrant policies that sought to further divide our communities. His contributions to our great state cannot be overstated and will never be forgotten.”
State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna: As a dedicated public servant, he worked tirelessly and selflessly to defend the rights of his constituents and all Texans. He leaves a tremendous imprint in the lives of so many.
CM Ed Gonzalez: Beyond his service as an elected official, Senator Gallegos was also a Houston firefighter for 22 years and lived a life dedicated to serving the public. He was known as a determined legislator, often fighting the hard fights to stand up for his beliefs. Our community, our city, and our families will miss Senator Gallegos and are forever grateful for his service.