Peña Intends to Stay in Texas House

The political ambitions of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, have been the subject of speculation since he switched parties prior to the recent legislative session. But he’s announcing today that — for now, at least — he doesn’t intend to go anywhere.

Rep. Aaron Pena (R-Edinburg) speaks at the TribLive event at the LBJ School on February 28, 2011

The political ambitions of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, have been the subject of speculation since he switched parties prior to the recent legislative session. But he’s announcing today that — for now, at least — he doesn’t intend to go anywhere.

“I’ve said from the beginning that my intention is to run for re-election, and I guess I’m announcing that today,” Peña told the Tribune. “For months, I’ve been hearing that I’m running for Congress and even though I’ve publicly stated many times that I’m not running for Congress, nobody seems to believe me.” (You can listen to the full audio of the conversation using the media player on your right.)

Full Audio: Rep. Aaron Peña

A campaign for Congress was never even considered, Peña said, adding that he did not anticipate one could be drawn that a Republican could win. "I embarked on this course of changing parties and becoming a Republican," he said, "because I wanted to give my community a choice. I thought the Democrats had taken the community for granted."

Peña’s bid to retain his seat in the Texas House will be his first attempt at getting elected in the Rio Grande Valley as a Republican. It won't be a walk in the park. In researching the area, Peña says the last Republican he can find in the Legislature from Hidalgo County is John McAllen in the mid-1880s.

Peña notes that South Texas has a long history of straight-ticket Democratic voting. “There may have been purpose in that a long long, time ago,” he said. “Many of us today, including myself back then when I was a Democrat, felt obligated to follow what my father did and my grandfather did. We’re very loyal to traditions. I believe that you honor your ancestors by thinking for yourself.”

Though he’ll be running as a Republican this time around, Peña says that the people in his district know him and know where he stands. Another element that could work in his favor are the redrawn districts, which — as they currently stand — put him in an almost entirely new district that is more conservative leaning.

It should not be a surprise that the Republican majority in the Legislature would take the opportunity to form a district in their favor during this redistricting period, Peña says.  He says he mostly stayed out of the process, intentionally not learning the computer program used to draw political maps or getting involved.

“I didn’t help set it up. That’s always another statement that’s always made,” he said, referring to further speculation about the motives for his party-switch.

When discussing the issue with staffers, he recalls, “I asked that none of the members be drawn where they’re paired or drawn in a seat that they could not win. And so everybody has their seat and every incumbent could get re-elected.”

Even with a changed district, Peña is not a shoo in. It’s more of a conservative Democratic district, he says, with a population that is 52 percent Democratic-leaning. But he sats, “I believe that the circumstances are there to elect a Republican, certainly somebody they know.” 

Potential challengers in the general or even the primary do not concern him. “I’m a political junkie, so I’d love to have an opponent. It’s kind of weird saying that,“ he says. “I invite the challenge of a any Republican from the right or any Democrat from the left to say that I don’t represent my district, because I do.”

Peña says he hopes to serve as a bridge between different communities, noting that he says he has good relationships on both sides of the political aisle. He also points to the current session and says that the six Hispanic Republicans, including himself, played an important role.

Peña says he hopes his announcement can “close down those rabbit trails” of rumors that he might be running for Congress or something else in the upcoming elections. As for future chances at higher office, he says, “I’m asked that all the time. I’m very happy with what I’m doing.”

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