State Sen. Mario Gallegos remembered for passionate advocacy

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State Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., a long-term Texas lawmaker, died Tuesday in a Houston hospital from complications related to a 2007 liver transplant at the age of 62.

Gallegos, who became the first Hispanic to represent Harris County in the Senate, was well known for his interest in education, fighting for teacher pay raises and higher education funding.

“The senator’s family is enormously grateful for the outpouring of support, thoughts and prayers expressed during the last few days,” Democratic political consultant Harold Cook said in a prepared statement.

Gallegos represented Senate District 6 in Harris County, which covers the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area, since 1995 and served in the Texas House the previous four years.

Before running for office, Gallegos was a long-time firefighter with the Houston Fire Department, where he retired as Senior Captain after 22 years.

In 2006 Gallegos announced he would begin treatment for alcoholism. Later he learned he had cirrhosis of the liver. The senator underwent a liver transplant in 2007.

Despite Gallegos’ body trying to reject the new liver and against doctor’s orders, he returned to the Capitol in 2007 to cast a vote opposing a bill that would require people to have a photo ID to vote. Republicans failed to pass the photo ID bill in 2007 but eventually made it into law in 2011.

Gallegos was running against Republican R.W. Bray in the upcoming November election. It is now too late to remove Gallegos’ name from the ballot. If he wins, the governor will need to set up a special election to replace his position.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini issued a statement in repsonse to Gallegos’ death. She said Gallegos was known for fighting passionately for health and human services for the poor, the young, the old and the disabled.

“Senator Gallegos never quit,” she said in the statement. “Even those who disagreed with him politically admired his passion, his generosity and his sense of duty to his constituents.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who worked closely with Gallegos at the Legislature, wrote about the death on her website.

“This is truly a tragic day for Houston, the Senate and Texas,” she said. “Mario Gallegos leaves some very big shoes to fill, and a hole in our hearts.”

Gallegos is survived by his wife, Theresa, three children and five grandchildren.

According to Cook’s statement, the Gallegos family intends to hold a memorial service in Austin.