AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas announced Monday that he will not seek reelection to his congressional district on the southern border where Republicans are seeing new chances in 2022.
Since Vela’s first victory in 2012, the five-term congressman has easily won reelection in what has been a solidly Democratic district. But a big swing in voters along the heavily Latino border toward former President Donald Trump last year is giving Republicans new optimism in a region where they’ve long been dealt lopsided defeats.
The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature could also make the district more vulnerable for Democrats as it begins drawing new voting maps this year.
“It is now time to allow other residents of South Texas the opportunity to fulfill this wonderful privilege for which I will be forever grateful,” Vela said in a statement.
His retirement was first reported by Axios.
The announcement by Vela, 58, makes him the second House Democrat to announce he won’t seek reelection next year, when Republicans have high hopes of capturing control of the chamber. Only one House Republican has revealed plans to not run for reelection.
The GOP will need a net gain of only around five seats next year to take majority control. Democrats’ edge in the chamber is currently 219-211, with five vacancies.
The Republican drive will be aided by redistricting, which occurs once a decade as House seats are redistributed among the states to reflect the latest Census. For growing, Republican-controlled states such as Texas, that means the new lines will be drawn to help GOP candidates.
Vela’s district is heavily Hispanic, voters who traditionally lean toward Democrats but with whom Trump made gains in his reelection defeat last November. The district includes Cameron County, one of the largest counties on the Texas border, where Hillary Clinton beat Trump by a 2-to-1 margin in 2016. Trump still lost the county by double-digits but cut into that deficit while winning tens of thousands of new supporters in predominantly Mexican American communities.
In addition, history will be on the GOP’s side. The party that does not hold the White House usually gains large numbers of House seats in midterm elections.
In January, Biden named Vela one of four vice chairs of the Democratic National Committee.
The White House announced earlier this month that Biden had chosen Vela’s wife, Rose, an attorney and retired state judge, to be director of the White House Commission on White House Fellowships.
Fram reported from Washington, D.C.
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