AUSTIN — San Antonio’s newest representative took her seat in the House at the end of April — well after the deadline for filing bills and leaving her colleagues little time to grasp the pronunciation of her Spanish surname.
“Min-ha-rez,” Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, reminds her colleagues on the floor.
“It’s no biggie,” she said in an interview. “I’ve dealt with it all my life. They’re getting it.”
Minjarez filled the House seat vacated by Sen. José Menéndez. She defeated Delicia Herrera, a former member of the San Antonio City Council. House District 124 had been without a state representative since February when Menéndez, D-San Antonio, won a seat in the Senate.
By the time Minjarez took office, she missed the deadline to file her own bills. But she can still write amendments, sponsor Senate bills and add her voice to outnumbered Democrats in the Republican-controlled House
She became a key player in a late-night debate when Democrats pushed back against a measure by Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, which added restrictions to the judicial bypass process used by minors seeking abortions without parental consent.
“I think what I learned in this process is you either jump on board, or you get left behind,” Minjarez said.
Minjarez, 40, credited her quick adjustment to the help of the Bexar County delegation. Rep. Diego Bernal, who also came into the session late, worked with Minjarez and Democrats to fight Morrison’s bill with many amendments, all of which ultimately failed.
Bernal said he was impressed with how quickly she adjusted to the process.
“I really saw it as us being team players, but what I really admired was that she didn’t say ‘I’m just going to watch,’” Bernal said.
Minjarez, a former Bexar County prosecutor, has her own private law practice representing business interests and Child Protective Services cases. She said she relies on her law background in dealing with the legislative process.
She has not been shy teaming up with Bexar County senators, either. Minjarez sponsored Menéndez’s Senate Bill 1781, which would require animal shelters in Bexar County to use all available kennel space before an animal can be euthanized.
In a state legislature that only meets every other year for 140 days to debate hundreds of bills, even a lawmaker coming in at the start of the session has a lot of ground to cover.
Trinity University political science Professor David Crockett said there are almost no advantages to coming into the session late. The lack of experience makes Minjarez vulnerable to a challenge in the next election.
“You would have to figure that someone in her position would be a target for someone to run against her during re-election,” Crockett said.
But Minjarez has plans to keep her seat in the House.
“I’ve really enjoyed being the voice of the district,” Minjarez said. “I get a lot of correspondence from members of my district on bills, and I think coming in this late has actually been a blessing.”
Herrera, her opponent in the runoff election, may be considering running against Minjarez again.
The two have been friends since 2009, and according to Herrera, their relationship made the election “comfortable, engaging and supportive.”
That’s not to say Herrera will be backing down from a chance at the seat again.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” Herrera said. “I don’t have an answer one way or another. I don’t want to rule that off completely.”
According to Herrera, Minjarez has certainly “hit the ground running.” But Herrera thinks her previous experience on City Council would have given her a leg up if she had won House District 124.
“I think I would have been able to come up quite a bit ahead of her,” Herrera said. “That’s not to take away from what she’s doing. My learning curve wouldn’t have been as steep.”