Governor Greg Abbott has called a special election to fill the vacancy created by the surprise resignation this week of state senator Carlos Uresti, who was convicted of eleven counts of fraud and money laundering earlier this year. Despite Uresti’s plea to the governor to consider holding an emergency election that would coincide with the November general election—a move that would save taxpayers the cost of a special election—Abbott chose to hold the voting on July 31. That means that those interested in running to fill Uresti’s unexpired term must file with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office by Monday. Early voting in the special election will begin on July 16. “The indictment and ultimate conviction of Senator Uresti for fraud and money laundering has already left District 19 without effective representation in the Texas Senate for over a year,” said Abbott in a statement. “With the 86th Legislative Session approaching, and ongoing interim legislative committee hearings, it is imperative to fill this vacancy to ensure that Senate District No. 19 is fully represented as soon as possible.”
Candidates must file their applications with the Secretary of State by 5 p.m. on Monday in order to make it onto the special election ballot. So far, former U.S. representative Pete Gallego and state representative Roland Gutierrez, both Democrats, have announced their intention to run for Uresti’s seat. Gutierrez and Gallego will face Republican Pete Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti for his seat in 2016. In a traditionally Democratic district, Flores becomes the automatic underdog in the July race.
Uresti was convicted of eleven felony counts of fraud and money laundering in February but steadfastly refused to resign until the appeals process was complete, despite the pleas of both his Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate. In early April, Uresti’s request for a new trial was denied on the grounds that he was “subjectively aware of the illegal conduct.” While his resignation this week, which he announced on Twitter, caught many by surprise, those familiar with the federal legal system suggested Uresti was strategic in his timing. Uresti is scheduled to be sentenced next week and could face up to two hundred years in prison. But federal sentencing guidelines and the judge’s discretion is expected to result in a much shorter prison sentence—legal experts predict between eight and twelve years. By resigning his Senate seat, Uresti is believed to be attempting to make a favorable impression on the judge.
During his time in office, Uresti built a reputation for advocacy on issues dealing with the safety and health of children, along with education and economic growth. In his letter of resignation, he mentions that he is most proud of his anti–child abuse legislation, along with the formation of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, which serves to advance and develop “community-based solutions for the problems of child abuse and neglect.” But alongside his commitment to the communities within District 19, his Senate district, Uresti was caught in a Ponzi scheme surrounding what was an oil field services company called FourWinds Logistics. As a stake owner of and general counsel for the company, Uresti was accused of earning commissions for recruiting investors, which he did fraudulently.
The emergency special election comes as one of the final chapters in Uresti’s political saga, which began last year when word broke of his fraudulent hand in the oil industry. Uresti’s sentencing is set to begin on Tuesday, but his legal problems are far from over. Uresti faces a second trial in October on bribery and money-laundering charges in connection with his role as a consultant for a company providing health care services to prison inmates in Reeves County.