Vela to leave Congress, says decision partly based on redistricting

Announcing his decision not to run for reelection in 2022, District 34 U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. said Monday that a decade in Congress feels like long enough and that he’s ready to give someone else a shot at representing this slice of South Texas.

Another factor in the decision is that congressional district lines are being redrawn this year and it’s unknown what District 34 will look like when it’s done, Vela said. Normally the lines would be redrawn during the summer, though the Census-count delay caused by the pandemic means it won’t happen until late this year, he said.

“I’ve just got to keep my head down and do the work that we do,” Vela said. “My focus right now is going to be the stimulus package and implementation of what we just passed. Thirteen counties and 62 towns are going to need a lot of guidance over the course of the next six months. … I’m hopeful that we’re going to have an infrastructure package and get some movement on immigration reform, but we just kind of have to wait to see,” Vela said.”

He said his assignments on the House Armed Services and Agriculture committees and his constituent case load will also help keep him busy.

Vela said he suspects a number of candidates will run for his seat next year and that he’s ready to guide whoever it happens to be. While admitting frustration with how long it takes to get things done in Congress, he said the job has given him the opportunity to help constituents behind the scenes while also helping move high-profile projects forward — Brownsville’s new airport terminal, for instance.

“It’s been one of the most incredible experiences of my life, without question,” Vela said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”

In January he was appointed by President Joe Biden to the Democratic National Committee as a vice chairman, and this month Vela’s wife, Brownsville attorney and retired judge Rose Vela, was tapped by Biden to lead the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

Vela said he’s not sure what he’ll do after leaving Congress but that he did form solid relationships during his time in office.

“I’ve got my law degree and a lot of experience up here along the way, and lots of good people that I’ve gotten to know back home and up here,” Vela said. “We’ll just take it day by day.”