After her daughter Lexi was murdered by a cowardly killer at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas last year, Kimberly Mata-Rubio began advocating for more gun control laws, showing up at the U.S. Capitol and the statehouse in Austin callingon politicians to ban so-called assault weapons and raise the age to purchase a modern sporting rifle from 18 to 21. As Texas Monthly reported in a profile of Mata-Rubio earlier this year, she was “regularly interviewed by reporters from NPR, the New York Times, the television networks, Time magazine, the Texas Tribune, and various Texas newspapers and television stations” and a frequent speaker at gun control rallies.
She also decided to throw her hat into the ring for Uvalde mayor this year, once again receiving a lot of media attention both locally and nationally. But when the votes were tallied on Tuesday, Mata-Rubio fell far short of victory, losing to former mayor Cody Smith by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
Smith is a senior vice president at First State Bank of Uvalde. He spent more than a decade on city council and was first elected mayor in 2008.
“I’m just very honored to be elected mayor again,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to representing this entire community.”
Smith garnered 1,667 votes, while Kimberly Mata-Rubio garnered 837 votes. Art teacher Veronica Martinez received 46 votes.
There were signs ahead of the election that Mata-Rubio’s campaign was failing to find traction among Uvalde residents, including in a pre-election profile from Houston Public Media.
For Mata-Rubio, turning grief into action is not just about her family. She says everyone lost something that day in May.
“My community is also suffering,” she said. “We lost our sense of security. We lost 21 residents of Uvalde. And I want to be part of the change that my community sees.”
Not everyone wants that kind of change. Talking to people in the town of 15,000 reveals a divided community with clashing ideas on how to move forward. Some would rather not have permanent reminders in town, such as the 21 white crosses that line the plaza’s fountain.
More than five months after the massacre, Uvalde County voted to reelect Republican Gov. Greg Abbott despite his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, campaigning for stricter gun measures. Only 45% of eligible Uvalde County voters cast a ballot in that election, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
The tragedy didn’t make much of a difference with new voters either – there have been fewer than 200 new voter registrations in the county since the shooting.
Aide Escamilla, who works at the local junior college, says the lack of voter participation is apathy.
“The massacre didn’t change a thing,” she said. “And I don’t think that this mayoral race is going to reflect anything different in our community.”
According to Texas Public Radio turnout was actually a bit higher this year compared to the last mayoral race, so I don’t think Mata-Rubio’s loss can be pinned on voter apathy. Instead, it looks like most Uvalde voters haven’t suddenly embraced gun control as a major issue; something that appears to confound the public radio reporters who seem to believe that the only proper response to a mass shooting in a community is for residents to start voting Democrat… or at least in favor of more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms.
Uvalde residents can grieve alongside Mata-Rubio without having to vote for her. They can feel their own pain and loss without demanding a gun ban. Heck, they can even admire her activism while still disagreeing with the policies she’s promoting, and I’m sure some of them do. But every story needs a villain, and in this case, it’s the residents of Uvalde, voters and non-voters alike) who didn’t vote for Mata-Rubio whom the press and gun control groups will denigrate and dismiss as apathetic, uncaring, or more invested in protecting their guns than their children simply because they rejected her bid to become Uvalde’s next mayor.