The South Texas representative confirmed the report to CNN, stating, “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 represents the 34th Congressional District which stretches from east of San Antonio down to the Rio Grande Valley.
Though still in control of Democrats, Vela’s current district saw one of the biggest shifts towards Republicans in 2020 out of the entire nation.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the district with 59 percent of the vote, while Donald Trump only received 37 percent.
That shifted right in 2018 when Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke carried the district with 58 percent of the vote against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Lupe Valdez, carried it against Gov. Greg Abbott with only 50 percent.
In 2020, Trump’s share of the vote increased to 48 percent, though Joe Biden still carried the district with 52 percent.
An analysis from the Daily Kos Elections notes that swing in Trump voters in Vela’s district was the third-largest in the nation, though Vela himself still won reelection handily with 55 percent against his Republican opponent’s 42 percent.
A neighboring Democrat to Vela, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), saw an even closer reelection bid as Republicans in South Texas came out in full force, signaling an electoral shift in the border region that the GOP hopes to capitalize on.
In February, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) released a list of targets for 2022 that includes Vela and Gonzalez, as well as Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28).
The list also included Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), a border Democrat in Arizona who also recently announced that she would not be seeking reelection.
News of the retirements of Vela and Kirkpatrick comes as the border faces an ongoing immigration crisis with Republicans pointing their fingers at the lax policies of the Biden administration.
What Texas’ 34th Congressional District will look like by the election of 2022 is to be determined, as the Lone Star State is expected to gain three new congressional districts during redistricting later this year.
However, redistricting itself is also up in the air, as there have been substantial delays in the release of the necessary data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Regardless, the retirement of Vela will likely make it easier for the Republicans who control the redistricting process to carve out a seat in South Texas favorable to their party, as it removes a notable incumbent factor out of the equation.
Vela is not expected to be the only Texas Democrat to retire at the end of this term, either, as Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) has previously indicated that this would be her final term.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.