[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from Republican congressional candidate Mayra Flores.]

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Texas Democrat U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., retired Thursday night from Congress early, which will prompt a special election for his heated seat representing the South Texas border.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas who currently represents the neighboring congressional district, is running for Vela’s seat in November. He said on Friday he wished Vela well in his early retirement, which took effect at 11:59 p.m. Thursday night.

“I join all South Texans in thanking Congressman Filemon Vela for his service and dedication to our region in Congress. Congressman Vela has been a friend, a mentor, and a staunch advocate for our veterans, our students, small businesses and region as a whole. For the past nine years, Congressman Vela was a fighter. He will be missed, and I wish him luck as he embarks on his next chapter,” Gonzalez said. 

Republican nominee Mayra Flores, who is running for Vela’s seat in November against Gonzalez, was upset about the early retirement during a time of economic and security “crisis” on the South Texas border.

Flores told KVEO Reporter Sydney Hernandez on Friday: “Filemon Vela is abandoning us while we have a crisis on our border and families can’t afford groceries and gas because prices are so high. I will never abandon our community and am looking forward to competing in the special election for Texas’ 34th District. We are going to flip this seat and bring our South Texas values of faith, family and freedom to Washington.”

Vela last week told Border Report that he was stepping down early, but did not specify exactly when.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., is seen at his offices in Brownsville, Texas, on Aug. 22, 2019. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Vela has represented congressional District 34 for five terms since 2013. He intends to work a law and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.

Gonzalez is running for District 34 in the fall but won’t give up his current seat representing District 15, he told Border Report last week.

Gonzalez is switching districts due to redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led Texas Legislature during a Special Session that moved his McAllen home from District 15 into District 34.

Gonzalez said even if Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special election to fill Vela’s vacant seat, he won’t run for it until the general election in November.

Under congressional rules, the governor can call a special election when a seat is vacated.

The new District 15 is a seat that Republicans hope to flip red in November.

Monica De La Cruz narrowly lost to Gonzalez in 2020, but in March she easily won the primary election for the Republican nomination for District 15.

Ruben Ramirez and Michelle Vallejo are in a runoff for the Democratic nomination in District 15. That election will be held on May 24.