State Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, says he can't win re-election under new court-drawn redistricting maps and won't seek another term in the Texas House. It would have been his first election as a Republican. Along with state Rep. Allan Ritter of Nederland, Peña switched parties after the 2010 election, giving the GOP a supermajority of 101 members in the 150-member House.
He's the 23rd incumbent in the House to decide not to seek another term next year. The maps he says would defeat him were ordered earlier this week by a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio. Attorney General Greg Abbott is asking higher courts to set those maps aside, but time is short: Candidates start filing for the 2012 elections on Monday.
One of the first and most prolific legislator-bloggers in Texas, Peña posted a full explanation on A Capitol Blog under the title "Ten Good Years of Service":
After conversations over the last few days with family and friends I have decided not to seek re-election to the Texas House of Representatives. At the end of my fifth term I would have served a good ten years and feel that we have accomplished as much as we set out to do when I ran for this office in 2002.
At the beginning of the legislative redistricting process I advised colleagues and map drawers that my goal was to present a map that gave every incumbent in the Rio Grande Valley a legislative district that they could win. We did just that. Unfortunately, the map drawn and designated by the three judge federal redistricting panel undid that work. The district I have been placed in is a 75% Democratic seat. It is unwinnable by me or any Republican candidate and I will not move into another legislative district to run against a colleague.
My decision to switch parties was met with derision by many who accused me of doing so as a quid pro quo. As I said then and is now evidently clear I did so because I felt it was the right thing to do rather than because I expected a political favor in return. Providing South Texans with a choice and forcing petty partisans to debate ideas rather than rely on the personality driven politics of the past is a decision I will never regret. The Rio Grande Valley is too dynamic, too diverse to be dominated by a single party that lets bullies thrive and enrich themselves and their cronies.
My decision ten years ago to run for office was spurred by a family tragedy that highlighted the dire need for drug treatment services for our community. Shortly after winning election to the Texas House I, joined by family and friends, set out on a ‘promesa’, a walk, from a highly respectable but private substance abuse treatment facility in the hill country of Central Texas to the State Capitol. The walk was meant to call attention to and begin the drive for a meaningful dialogue on the impact that drug and alcohol abuse was having in all our communities. In my third term of office, I secured $3 million in state funding for a substance abuse treatment facility for Hidalgo County. After finding another $400 thousand for the storm proofing of the building, Hidalgo County began construction of the facility. It is now complete and will be serving adolescents and their families in a location east of Edinburg on Schunior Road.
Much to the chagrin of my family, I have completely dedicated my life to public service. I was once a wealthy man. I have traded that material wealth for a spiritual and emotional growth that I cannot regret. It is time to bring focus back to a family that has been supportive beyond all reasonable expectations. I am so proud to have been given the opportunity to serve my community and will continue to seek ways to do so. I am so proud of a hardworking and dedicated staff that has helped me and this office accomplish so much. Our strength has been in remaining independent of the partisanship that mars local politics, of late affected the Texas Legislature and has virtually paralyzed Washington, D.C. for generations.
That independence allowed me to put the needs of my community before the dictates of party bosses and special interest groups. The construction of the Substance Abuse Treatment Center, securing funding of $750,000 for a park at the new Boys and Girls Club facility in Edinburg, the passage of bonds for a $40 million fine arts complex at UTPA, legislation authorizing the construction of a $25 million Student Fitness and Wellness Center also at UTPA were all made possible because of relationships built on trust and mutual respect. The establishment and success of the Regional Academic Health and the emergence of a Medical School for South Texas are great achievements that I share with many local and state leaders.
My election to the Texas House in 2002 coincided with the selection of the first Republican Speaker of the House since Reconstruction. As a Democrat I was asked to serve on substantive committees like the powerful Appropriations Committee and the tax writing committee Ways and Means. I served as a Chairman of Committees on Criminal Jurisprudence, Technology and Emergency Preparedness under two different Speakers. At the beginning of this past legislative session I founded the Hispanic Republican Conference and was joined in this effort by five other newly elected Hispanic Republican House members.
Independence allowed me to take on issues that were unpopular to partisans in South Texas but important to the rest of the community. Talking about the importance of voter integrity, the undue influence of politiqueras in the process, the corruption at the local, county and state level by bullies left unchecked were met by threats of retribution and on more than one occasion a challenge at the polls. On the issue of Voter ID I was firmly behind the will of the people of my community.
On homeland and border security I once again stood at odds with some local, state and federal officials that believe sticking your head in the sand is a viable policy in confronting the violence that has ravaged Northern Mexico over the last few years. I have been a vocal proponent of increasing federal, state and local law enforcement resources in order to continue to secure our border. In the last two sessions I have called for and supported over $110 million in state funding each biennium for the border region. It is not important whose definition is used to attribute violence in our community as spillover from the cartel wars in Northern Mexico. We must not think that we are building up an arsenal of hardware and manpower to prepare for an eventuality of a drug war in South Texas but it is our duty to our children and every Texan to be vigilant and guard against the possibility of the occurrence of that threat.
Arguably one of our communities’ proudest achievements lies on the self sacrifice and service of countless of military veterans and their families. I remain an ardent supporter of the commitment of local, state and federal resources for the construction of a full-fledged veteran’s hospital for the Rio Grande Valley. I have stood with veterans on every major and minor piece of legislation over my career. From reducing the tax burden on disabled veterans to passing legislation conferring the Legislative Medal of honor to Edinburg heroes Freddy Gonzales and Pedro Cano, I have been proud to do my part in honoring our citizen soldiers. I joined veterans of South Texas in a walk from Edinburg to San Antonio to highlight the trip that many have faced in receiving health care. The walk, a march to the veterans that I joined in the 230 mile trek, was a simple act rooted in a deep and meaningful gesture. I will never forget the friendships earned on that trip and I will never give up on the fight for getting those veterans and the others that will follow the hospital they deserve.
I have had the honor of working with national and international business leaders and local and state officials to bring much needed jobs to our community. I have been woken in the middle of the night by parents of drug addicted youths at their wits’ end. Great gestures come from grand designs, multi-billion dollar enterprises that traverse continents and create jobs and wealth but they also come from kind words and extending a helping hand to someone in need.
My wife and children allowed me the luxury of working full-time, seven days a week at a job that pays $7200 a year. To Monica, Adrienne, Aaron, Alyssa, Anthony and John, thank you. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I was given to serve the community I love so much.