EDITORIAL: Leadership: As Vela climbs party ranks roots remain in his district

We congratulate U.S. Rep. Filemon B. Vela, D-Brownsville, who has been named a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. President Joe Biden made the appointment for Vela, who had supported Biden’s campaign since the presidential primaries last year.

The assignment should be more than a reward for Vela’s past support for Biden. The position gives the Rio Grande Valley congressman an opportunity to defend the needs and interests of South Texas, Hispanics in general and a state where his party is in the minority.

Vela should be an asset to the party leadership. He just began his fifth term in Congress and already is one of the top Hispanic leaders on Capitol Hill. In a recent interview with Staff Writer Steve Clark, he also noted his extensive relationships with political leaders not only in Texas but across the country.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Vela told Clark. “It’s more on the political than the official side. I like the political side of it, being able to engage with people around the country.”

That affinity for the personal side of politics probably comes from growing up in a politically active family. Vela’s father, Filemon Vela, was a federal judge from 1980 to 2004, and before that he had served as a Brownsville city commissioner and state district judge in Cameron County. The congressman’s mother, Blanca Sanchez Vela, also served as Brownsville’s mayor.

Certainly Rep. Vela can be expected to utilize his position to more than network with other party leaders. During his term in Congress he has flexed his political muscle on several occasions. Vela forcefully opposed several measures taken by the recent administration that he believed weren’t in the best interests of his South Texas district, such as the border wall and the rejection of refugees. At one point he even quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus over its acceptance of an immigration bill that he believed focused too much on “militarization of the border,” as he viewed it.

We trust that those strong principles will enable Vela to use his position to guide the party toward policies that he believes are best for his district and for the county, rather than simply serve as a reluctant cheerleader for policies and proposals that he might question.

It can Be done, as we witnessed with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was Senate Republican whip during the first half of the Trump presidency. While Cornyn was a loyal party leader — current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested Cornyn would be a good choice to succeed him — the Texas senator continued to offer and support border trade and other legislation that benefited our state even if it clashed with administration policy.

Given the Democratic Party’s current platform, we don’t expect Vela to face many issues that might force him to choose between the directives of his party and the best interests of his constituency. The congressman’s history gives us confidence that he will continue to be a strong champion for the people of South Texas, both in Congress and within his party.