BY BERENICE GARCIA AND NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE | STAFF WRITERS
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez announced Friday he is considering switching districts to represent a different area of the Rio Grande Valley as a result of the congressional boundaries state lawmakers are proposing.
Gonzalez, D-McAllen, currently represents District 15, but after state Republicans unveiled proposed changes to the districts earlier this week, the congressman said he would consider vacating his seat to run for neighboring District 34. That seat is currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who announced in March he was not running for re-election.
“It’s been a clear intent on behalf of the state Republican Party to take the voice of Democrats away in South Texas or to quiet Democrats in South Texas,” Gonzalez said of the proposed changes to District 15. “They’re making a district that Trump won, that’s what the Republicans in Austin have done.”
Gonzalez explained that under the proposed maps, nearly everything east of Interstate 69 would be in District 34.
“That’s a huge part of my political base and the people that I’ve been working for for the past five years,” he said.
Gonzalez stressed he wouldn’t make a decision until the final maps are adopted.
If the adopted maps reflect the proposed changes, Gonzalez said running for re-election in his current district would be an uphill battle.
“I think it would be an expensive race and something that will have to be reoccurring every two years,” he said, “but I solidly believe that this is still a winnable district and that we will (have) the right candidate, if this were to happen.”
“No matter what, I feel that we’ll win both seats,” he said about Democrats.
Gonzalez is currently in a race with Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, a GOP candidate who came close to unseating him in 2020. Gonzalez won the seat by 6,588 votes, or just 50.5% of the votes.
Since then, De La Cruz Hernandez has been gaining more attention and has been endorsed by several high-profile Republicans, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“Congressman Vicente Gonzalez has revealed his true colors by showing the good people of District 15 that he truly does not care for them,” she said Friday. “I ran in this district in 2020 when it was viewed as un-winnable and my team and I worked tirelessly to earn the people’s vote. Vicente just wants to take the easy way out.”
Former broadcast journalist Frank McCaffrey also announced he would run for District 15 as a Republican candidate.
Gonzalez vowed to keep representing eastern Hidalgo County, an area he’s represented for nearly six years.
District 34, which was created as a result of the 2010 Census, currently covers 11 counties, including portions of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy.
Vela, who was the first to be elected to the seat in 2012, announced in March he would not run for re-election. At the time, he told The Brownsville Herald that he felt like 10 years in Congress was long enough and he was ready to give someone else a shot at representing that slice of South Texas.
But Vela said his decision was also rooted in part due to the redistricting at the state level.
It’s unclear what Vela will do once he’s out of office, but in January he was appointed by President Joe Biden to the Democratic National Committee as a vice chairman, and his wife, Brownsville attorney and retired judge Rose Vela, was recently tapped by Biden to lead the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
Gonzalez was first elected to District 15 in November 2016. If he were to switch districts, he will face at least two others who are already vying for that seat.
Brownsville native and civil rights lawyer Rochelle Garza announced her candidacy shortly after Vela announced he was stepping down. She is running as a democrat.
Republican Mayra Flores of San Benito announced her candidacy in February, a month before Vela’s announcement.
Rio Hondo resident and longtime Cameron County police officer Philip Sotelo has also thrown his hat into the race as a GOP candidate.
The deadline to file is Dec. 31.