U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, whose seat is targeted by Republicans in 2022, says he will not seek reelection


U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, emerged as a Republican target in 2022 after President Donald Trump performed better than expected along the Texas-Mexico border. Credit: Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Brownsville Democrat, announced Monday he is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

Vela was first elected in 2012 and represents much of the South Texas Gulf Coast. Jose Borjon, a former senior adviser to Vela and a longtime confidant, confirmed the news, which was first reported by Axios.

“He always meant to not overstay his visit," Borjon said. "There are other people that should have this opportunity, and I think he saw this was a good time to move on from the Congress."

"Filemon was extremely dedicated to the people of South Texas during the time he has served in Congress," Borjon added. "I will expect he will continue to do that as he closes out his term. ... Whoever replaces him has big shoes to fill."

Vela won reelection in 2020 by nearly 14 percentage points in a district that has generally been considered safe for Democrats. But national Republicans had identified him as a target in 2022 after the GOP performed surprisingly well along the Texas-Mexico border in 2020 and this year's redistricting process gives the party an opportunity to redraw the district in a more favorable manner for the party.

Moreover, the district saw a dramatic swing on the presidential ballot. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carried the district by a 22 point margin. Four years later, President Joe Biden won the seat by four points.

Vela has unique name identification as both an incumbent and as a member of a prominent local political family.

Borjon acknowledged that the race to replace him will likely be tougher than in the past, given Republicans' over-performance in South Texas.

"Obviously, that's something on our mind given the situation in the past election, but we’re certain there’ll be a number of good candidates on the Democratic side...and we are confident that the seat will remain Democratic in then end."

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.