Adanary Jacques, Photographer
Once sworn in, Morales will become Harris County’s third freshman House Democrat, joining a legislative session already in full swing. She is likely to follow the Democratic party line when lawmakers decide how to overhaul Texas’ property tax and school finance systems, issues that have drawn heavy focus so far.
Morales’ new colleagues include three House members who endorsed her runoff opponent, Democrat and former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega.
Unofficial returns Tuesday night showed Morales up by double digits over Noriega with all precincts reporting.
The result does little to shift the balance of power in the House, which is controlled 83 to 66 by Republicans. More than 170,000 residents in House District 145 will gain representation in Texas’ lower chamber, though, amid a consequential session in Austin. The overwhelmingly Hispanic district covers parts of the Heights, downtown, southeast Houston, Pasadena and South Houston.
The seat has remained vacant since December, when Alvarado, D-Houston, won a spot in the Texas Senate to replace U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia. Morales quickly announced her candidacy to replace Alvarado and assembled a campaign team made up of the new senator’s former staffers.
Morales, 50, also gathered the endorsement of Garcia, a Houston Democrat who was elected to Congress in the November midterms. She actively campaigned for Morales, appearing with her at campaign events and in digital ads.
Though Morales finished atop an eight-candidate field in the initial round, she did not win a majority of the votes, forcing a runoff with Noriega.
During the five-week runoff, Noriega continued to pitch her case as the more experienced candidate, citing her brief tenure representing House District 145 in place of her then-husband, Rick Noriega, while he was deployed to Afghanistan. She also served three terms as an at-large member of Houston City Council.
Meanwhile, Morales campaigned on her deep ties to the district, having run her family’s well-known funeral home since the age of 23. Morales’ supporters often said that they believed she would remain responsive to her district even after winning the seat, perhaps underscoring the success of her campaign pitch.
Campaign finance reports showed that Morales also outraised and outspent Noriega. Through Feb. 23, Morales reported a total campaign haul of about $123,000, far more than Noriega.
Late Tuesday evening, Morales chalked her victory up to the strength of her campaign team and her own tenacity, noting that she had actively campaigned every day since Christmas.
“I’m very proud that at the end, the experience that mattered was the experience of growing up in the district,” Morales said.
Now, Morales said she will turn her focus to proposed laws that are already working their way through the Legislature, including the committees on which she will serve, Urban Affairs and Corrections.
Though she will be sworn in after Friday’s deadline to file most bills and resolutions, Morales said she would take special interest in existing legislation on public education, health care and the environment, the top three elements of her campaign platform.