This past May, after the news media had completed their stories on the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and began to pack up and leave town, Kimberly Mata-Rubio, a mom who had lost her ten-year-old daughter Lexi in the massacre, wondered what she would do next with her life.
I had followed Kim since the shooting, watching her transform herself from a quiet young woman into a fierce advocate for gun control, culminating in a dramatic confrontation with Senator Ted Cruz in his Washington office. She told me she was thinking about going to law school, or perhaps writing a memoir. She said she might get into the politics.
But she kept her plans to herself—until this week, when she announced she would be running for mayor of Uvalde in a special election in November. Mata-Rubio will be facing off against Cody Smith, a former Uvalde city council member (1994–2008) and mayor (2008–12) who works as a senior vice president at First State Bank of Uvalde. Smith says the reason he is running is because “I want to do whatever I can to make this community heal and grow and prosper. And I have experience doing that.”
Mata-Rubio admits she is an underdog in the race. But she says her passion to improve Uvalde and bring the town’s diverse citizens together far outweighs her political inexperience.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Texas Monthly: I asked you in May about what you might do next—I asked if someone had suggested you go into politics, and you said yes. But were you thinking about running for mayor at that time?
Kimberly Mata-Rubio: No. Our current mayor [Don McLaughlin] is going to be seeking [Democratic state representative] Tracy King’s spot, so he’s unable to serve us. It’ll be a special election; this would be a one-year term. It’s no secret that I wanted to move from Uvalde in the past, but I’ve really come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be staying here. And if I’m going to be staying here and raising my other children here, I want it to be the best possible town it can be for my children and for the rest of the community. So that was the thought I put into running.
TM: In in your announcement, you said, “I want to represent the underserved in this community, whose voices matter but have been unheard.” Tell me about those people who feel underserved. Is it mostly Latinos?
KMR: Yes, I would say Latinos. I would say those with lower incomes, definitely. I think that growing up, you don’t understand how the politics of a community work. You have issues that you want to bring up but you’re maybe not comfortable going to the city council. You don’t know how that works. I want to be the person that looks like them, that they feel at ease talking to. I want them to stop me in the grocery store and tell me what’s on their mind. I want them to feel comfortable coming to city hall and addressing [issues] in public. That’s my thought: I really just want the voices who have gone unheard for so long to finally have a chance to be heard.
TM: The candidate running against you so far is former mayor Cody Smith. Is he part of the longtime white establishment in Uvalde?
KMR: He obviously has a lot of experience, and I’ll give him credit for that. But I believe that it was prior leadership that led to the events of May 24. And that goes for the city, for the county, for the school. Everybody got very comfortable. And that’s exactly where things went wrong. And now is the time for change. So even though I might not have ever held an office before, I think I bring a lot to the table. I’ve been navigating our country’s political system for more than a year now, and I just want to bring what I’ve learned to my town to help improve it.
[In response to Mata-Rubio’s comment, Smith said, “I haven’t been mayor since 2012, so I haven’t been in position of governmental leadership since then. But what I can say is that it’s horrific what Kim and the rest of the families are going through, and I want to help them in any way I can.”]
TM: Tell me how the system helped create May 24.
KMR: We got comfortable—the school district got really comfortable with not having fences, with not having doors locked, not having policies. How was it that an open line of communication with the school district to have more of a closed campus was never brought up? If I win, I would be kind of opening the lines of communication between the county, the city, and the school, not just in response to issues, but being proactive. We need to know what’s going on at all arenas of our town because we need to work together. This is one community.
TM: In my experience in Uvalde, you do see this kind of class divide: the wealthier white neighborhood and then the middle-income Hispanic neighborhoods. Is that something you want to address?
KMR: What I want to do is bring us together. I think whatever issues existed before May 24, they only worsened after, and we are truly a fractured community right now. There are those who want to move on and forget, and those of us who are still suffering from our loss. And I think that there’s a way to move forward but bring the two teachers and nineteen children with us so we’re always honoring their memory.
TM: Since we’ve talked, is there anything, any policy, you’re promoting so that the memory of those who were killed is not forgotten?
KMR: Honestly, it’s just this candidacy. That’s what I’m doing: going forward and trying to promote change, but taking my daughter with me.
TM: In May, was it troublesome after the one-year anniversary when everybody packed up and left?
KMR: There were definitely less distractions. And also I formed real friendships with some of these reporters, so it was hard to see some of them go. But I also never rely on anyone else to tell Lexi’s story. I know just because those cameras are gone doesn’t mean I’m going to stop sharing her story. It’s honoring her legacy. That’s my greatest responsibility, and I take that on myself.
TM: How is your grief today? Do you feel your grief differently?
KMR: [The memories] don’t ever go away. I’ll always grieve for my daughter, and there are still moments where the pain seeps through all of the barriers I have up, and it just takes my breath away. Literally takes my breath away. I’ll almost gasp for air. It hurts, but I just can’t stop. That’s the thing. I just can’t stop to feel it all. There’s just so much work that needs to be done.
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