[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that an amendment to move Rep. Gonzalez’s home in McAllen into the 34th District was made by a Democratic state lawmaker.]
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who has represented South Texas’ 15th Congressional District for three terms, announced Tuesday he is switching districts.
Gonzalez wants to represent Texas’ 34th Congressional District, a border seat that has long been held by retiring U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., a Democrat.
His announcement came after the lines for both districts were redrawn by the Texas Legislature and the new redistricting plans — signed Monday by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — now have Gonzalez’s McAllen house within the 34th District, not in the 15th District.
In a statement Tuesday, Gonzalez accused Republicans in the state Legislature and Abbott of “gerrymandering” in switching his home and more than 250,000 other constituents from Hidalgo County into District 34, which has traditionally been represented by someone from Cameron County on the Gulf Coast.
“Texas Republicans stripped hundreds of thousands of constituents out of the 15th District of Texas, which I currently represent, and moved them along with my residence into the 34th District of Texas,” Gonzalez said. “I intend to continue my work in Congress as a strong voice delivering for working families across South Texas.”
However the amendment to redraw the boundaries of the districts and to place Gonzalez’ home in the 34th District was actually made by Texas State Rep. Ryan Guillen, a Democrat from Rio Grande City.
His former Republican opponent says Gonzalez made the move was because he was “scared” out of his current district, she told Border Report.
Monica De La Cruz, a Republican who lost to Gonzalez in the 2020 election by just 2.8%, or 6,500 votes, told Border Report on Tuesday that Gonzalez could have continued to run in District 15 regardless of where his home is located but conveniently chose to hop districts.
“District 15 has conservative values and my campaign is running a conservative campaign and I think that’s why we resonated in 2020 and we saw the district swing 18% and close the gap to just 2.8% and really essentially scared the incumbent into 34 because he knows that we have the right message for our district and are truly reflecting what their values are,” De La Cruz told Border Report.
She spoke via phone from Washington, D.C., where she met on Tuesday with leaders of the national Republican Party, she said. She also said she has had a change and has dropped the surname Hernandez and is just now campaigning under De La Cruz. (Her spokeswoman told Border Report it is to simplify the campaign.)
When asked to clarify whether she felt it was fair for the redistricting boundaries to change so dramatically — to pluck Gonzalez’ neighborhood and a few select others into District 34 — De La Cruz answered: “That’s up to the state Legislature and at the end of the day you can run in any district that you please. You do not have to live in the district until you win the election.”
The Constitution requires that members of the U.S. House of Representatives be at least 25 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and live in the state they represent (though not necessarily the same district).
Gonzalez on Tuesday told Border Report that he is qualified to represent border residents from the entire Rio Grande Valley, including those in Cameron County. And he doesn’t believe that District 15 will be won by a Republican.
“I’ve represented communities 335 miles away. Here in the Rio Grande Valley we are all one family,” Gonzalez said. “Although both districts have changed considerably I’m confident we will win them both.”
Vela said Tuesday: “There’s no one I trust more to stand up for the Rio Grande Valley and our values in Congress than Vicente.”
De La Cruz has the backing of several national Republican figures, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas. And District 15 is a seat the national party has targeted.
“We were going to win with him (Gonzalez) in the district or without him in the district so whether he’s here or he’s not we’re still looking for the Big W in 2022,” De La Cruz told Border Report.
Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican-backed super PAC, on Tuesday criticized Gonzalez for “abandoning” his district and backed De La Cruz.
“The clearest sign that Democrats know their majority is gone in 2022 is the steady stream of House Democrats retiring or looking to run for any seat but their own,” said CLF Communications Director Calvin Moore. “Democrats are flocking for cover because they know they’re going to get crushed in the midterms.”
A couple of lawsuits already have been filed relating to the redistricting plans, which created two new congressional districts — in Austin and Houston — in areas that do not have minority majorities.
This includes a lawsuit brought this week by individual voter-plaintiffs and Voto Latino, as well as a lawsuit filed last week — before the redistricting plans were signed into law — by the League of United Latin American Citizens and nine Hispanic civil rights and voter rights groups against Abbott.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.