State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, says he is filing papers to run for the CD-23 congressional seat now held by Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco of San Antonio. And in El Paso, former City Rep. Beto O'Rourke says that he will challenge longtime U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary election next year.
Canseco, who upset San Antonio Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in the November 2010 elections, didn't get much of a safety margin in the latest redistricting maps. His congressional district is Republican on paper, but it's attractive to Democrats who think they can bring in enough voters — especially in a presidential election year — to hold Canseco to one term.
Gallego first won election to the Texas House in 1990 and has chaired various committees and also been part of the Democratic leadership, doing time as head of the House Democratic and the Mexican American Legislative Caucuses. That's made him known to state and national Democrats who might be willing to help him in a congressional contest.
The district runs from San Antonio west to El Paso and includes all but five of the Texas counties that border Mexico.
San Antonio lawyer Manuel Peleaz decided this week not to run for that congressional seat. He says he got lots of encouragement at home from others in San Antonio, but that Gallego has locked down most of the important supporters west of Bexar County. That sets up as a "cage match," as he put it, between Gallego and Rodriguez, and with others, including John Bustamante, son of a former congressman, who announced last month. Rodriguez, who served with Gallego in the Texas House before running for federal office, has two congressional losses behind him; before losing to Canseco, he lost a congressional seat to Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.
In the El Paso battle, O'Rourke, who served on the City Council for six years before leaving the post this year, has long considered a congressional run, so his decision is not a big surprise. But it does set up another big political brawl in this city known for bruising Democratic melees.
"This is going to liven things up here," said El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Danny Anchondo.
Reyes and O'Rourke come from two long feuding camps in the local Democratic Party. Reyes, a former U.S. Border Patrol sector chief who was elected to Congress in 1996, is leader of the more conservative, establishment Democrats. O'Rourke, who runs a technology consulting and web design firm and is the son of a former El Paso County judge, is aligned with former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and more liberal, progressive Democrats.
When it comes time for the campaign barbs, they won't be the first ones exchanged between the two men. In 2009, O'Rourke drew national attention when he proposed a city resolution urging Congress to consider legalizing narcotics as a way to stem the bloody drug war raging in Mexico, just yards away from El Paso. Reyes was unimpressed with the proposal, which was eventually vetoed by Mayor John Cook. He said he worried the city could lose federal money if it took such a controversial stance.