Another special election, though this one is already a little chaotic.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela confirmed Thursday he will resign from Congress in the coming weeks, a decision that comes after he announced last year he would retire from the House.
The South Texas Democrat will leave before the end of his term to work for Akin Gump, a prominent law and lobbying firm.
The Washington-based publication Punchbowl first reported the news Thursday morning, and the Brownsville Democrat confirmed it to The Texas Tribune.
That development will set off a unique special election to replace him. His 34th District is based in Brownsville.
Rep. Vela had previously announced he was not running for re-election. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, the incumbent in CD15, switched to CD34 after redistricting made his district redder, and won the primary for that. My initial thought was that this was going to be a November special election, since it’s too late for May, and with Rep. Gonzalez not running there’s a good chance we’d get ourselves a two-month Congressperson, who would have a mighty tough act to follow in that department.
But that was too simplistic, and didn’t take a couple of things into account. This followup Trib story goes into more detail. I don’t have the energy to do a deep dive, so let me sum up. First, in regard to when the election might be:
If Vela resigns, we’ll get a special election to finish his term under the previous, more competitive lines for #TX34. But the winner will only get to serve for a number of months. Here’s what the law says about the timing of the special election:
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) 9:11 AM – 24 March 2022
By my reading of the statute, Abbott is limited to the uniform general election dates.
Sec. 204.021, Election Code explicitly states that the expedited election provisions of 203.013 do not apply to a congressional vacancy.
— Texas Election Source (@TXElects) 4:00 PM – 24 March 2022
Indeed. Abbott cited the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Harvey as the emergency justifying an earlier election for that coastal district, plus timing that would have left CD27 w/o a rep into the next spring. Perhaps ongoing border security issues would be the emergency here.
— Texas Election Source (@TXElects) 8:29 AM – 25 March 2022
The main factor here is that Rep. Vela hasn’t resigned yet. No special election can be set until he actually leaves Congress. The longer he waits, the less likely we’ll get an election before November. I don’t know how long he’d have to wait to make anything but a November election practicable, but if held on until like July 4, there would probably be little reason to bother with anything before November.
Why does this matter? Well, that’s the other thing. The special election in CD34 will be in the current CD34, which was only a 51-47 Biden district in 2020. The new CD34 is 57-42 for Biden, though as we’ve often seen downballot Dems did better. While Mayra Flores, the Republican running in November in the new CD34, has announced she will run in a special election in the old CD34, Dems don’t have an obvious candidate. Remember, Vicente Gonzalez is still representing CD15, and would have to resign there to run in a CD34 special. That’s a big advantage for the Republicans, since who would even be open to being recruited to run as a placeholder in a tough race? But not running anyone, or just letting the usual flotsam that signs up for random races be the standard-bearers, isn’t a great option either.
You would think that Filemon Vela, who is among other things a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, would be sensitive to those concerns. And maybe he is, I don’t know. What I do know is that if he leaves his position in Congress for the obviously plush and lucrative position as a hired gun for Akin Gump he’s putting his fellow Democrats in a tough spot. All he needs to do to avoid this is not resign until, like, August or so. (July might be good enough, but why take a chance?) We’re talking four more months in Congress. That’s not much to ask. If you’re a constituent of Rep. Vela, I’d recommend you call his office and urge him to stay put for the time being. This is an easily avoidable mess, but it’s all on him whether it needs to be cleaned up or not.