Citing GOP ‘gerrymandering,’ Rep. Gonzalez announces bid for Lower Valley congressional seat

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, officially announced his intent to run in the newly drawn 34th congressional district Tuesday, attributing the switch to “GOP gerrymandering” placing his home inside that district instead of District 15.

Earlier this month Gonzalez indicated that he was considering the switch.

“Texas Republicans stripped hundreds of thousands of constituents out of the 15th District of Texas, which I currently represent, and moved them along with my residence into the 34th District of Texas,” a news release from Gonzalez’s office read. “I intend to continue my work in Congress as a strong voice delivering for working families across South Texas.”

Gonzalez’s warchest has over $2.2 million in it, according to the release.

Gonzalez will now run for the seat being vacated by incumbent U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville.

Rochelle Garza, a civil rights lawyer and a Democrat from Brownsville, had already announced her intentions to run for Vela’s seat in July.

“It’s been my honor to serve South Texas and I am proud of what Vicente and I have accomplished together over the years. We’ve helped deliver millions of vaccines, billions of dollars for small businesses and schools to safely re-open and thousands of dollars a month for families with children across South Texas,” Vela said in Gonzalez’s release. “There’s no one I trust more to stand up for the Rio Grande Valley and our values in Congress than Vicente.”

It’s unclear what Gonzalez’s decision and Vela’s tacit endorsement mean for Rochelle Garza, a former American Civil Liberty Union attorney who began her campaign for the district 34 seat months ago.

“After this redistricting process, it is clear that Republicans’ only concern is retaining power and not on representing Texans,” Garza wrote in a statement. “The growth of the Latino population in the state has been completely ignored and is not reflected in the final maps. I am considering next steps, but regardless of what I decide, my commitment to the people of the Rio Grande Valley and the state of Texas remains unwavering.”

Meanwhile, Republicans at the national level took Gonzalez’s decision to switch districts as tantamount to turning tail and running.

“Gonzalez is abandoning his constituents in Texas’ 15th district and running elsewhere because he knows he can’t win over the voters who know him best,” NRCC Spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair wrote in a statement. “This doesn’t bode well for Democrats’ majority in 2022.”

Hidalgo County Republican Party Chair Adrienne Pena-Garza echoed that sentiment Tuesday.

“People see it as an opportunity. They think the district’s very sexy. You know, Monica (De La Cruz) did put in a lot of the sweat equity, along with a lot of other grassroots activists…actively encouraging voters in our community to consider our candidates and to vote Republican,” she said, referencing the notably close race De La Cruz ran against Gonzalez in 2020.

Pena-Garza says there’s likely to be more than five Republican candidates in the race for District 15, riding what she describes as a surging wave of conservative sentiment in South Texas.

“For so long I felt like I had to be the one holding up the torch, now I feel like they don’t even need me,” she quipped.

Despite the more turbulent political landscape, Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Norma Ramirez voiced her confidence in a Democrat defending the District 15 seat Tuesday.

“We think we’ll be successful and we’ll be able to retain that seat. I know that we have two candidates that have great, great, great credentials, and they look really well,” Garza said, noting that she had anticipated Gonzalez’s decision and also attributing it to Republicans putting his house in district 34.

Garza didn’t rule out the possibility of more Democrats hopping into the race for District 15.

“There’s always the possibility,” she said.