Image from The Texas Senate

Born: 1946 (Laredo, TX)

Noted For: Judith Pappas Zaffirini is noted as the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas Senate.

In a political era characterized by strong partisanship that often impedes progress, Senator Judith Zaffirini stands out as a legislator who can get things done.

The Laredo politician, and UT Austin alum, has long been noted for her ability to forge cooperation across both sides of the aisle, as well as an impressive work ethic, thorough preparation, near-perfect voting and session attendance records, and well-articulated presentations, both on and off the Senate floor.

Judith first rose to statewide prominence in 1987, when she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas Senate, following her defeat of incumbents and challengers from both parties—a trend that has continued throughout her political career. As of today (2020), she is the second-highest-ranking state senator, and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator.

Her Senate tenure has been marked by a number of high-profile committee appointments and chairmanships, including the Eagle Ford Shale Legislative Caucus, the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, the Energy Council, and the Senate committees on government organization and higher education.  According to the senator’s website, she has sponsored and passed 36 substantive resolutions and 1,160 bills… “more bills than any other legislator in the history of the state of Texas.”

During the 2003 session, Judith famously participated in an orchestrated walkout of state legislators who fled to New Mexico in an attempt to prevent a quorum and block a proposed plan to re-district the Texas congressional map—a plan the fugitive legislators believed violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Despite their efforts, the plan was ultimately adopted, following legislative wrangling drawn out over three special sessions. However, the new statewide map was altered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, which ruled that aspects of the re-drawn districts amounted to racial gerrymandering, resulting in yet another re-draw of five South Texas districts.

Judith has received a number of awards and honors during her career, including induction into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor, a Distinguished Alumna distinction from the University of Texas, and inclusion in the “Top 100 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States” and “10 Best Senators” lists from Hispanic Business Magazine and Texas Monthly.

Additional Learning: “Now Rises Zaffirini”: Interview with The Alcalde (Alumni magazine of the University of Texas)