I almost decided not to weigh in on the contemplated party switch of South Texas state representative Aaron Peña. For starters, I couldn’t think of a decent pun for the headline.
“Republicans fix flat by letting the Aaron”
“Peña sees the Aaron his ways”
“Apparently, choosing a political party is a Peña the ass”
Nah. None of those headlines make the cut. But I’ll share some thoughts anyway, because this is pretty interesting stuff.
If Aaron Peña switched parties, it certainly wouldn’t be under the same political calculation as Chuck Hopson in East Texas.
Hopson, a Democratic East Texas House member who became a Republican last year, switched parties out of political necessity, and he turned out to be exactly right on that measure. His district had gone Republican around him, and his margins of victory were getting slimmer. After looking at the election results this time, there’s no doubt that if Hopson had remained a Democrat, he’d be a former House member by next month – there’s no way he would have won.
The math for Peña is different, both in his district and his county, which is heavily Hispanic. Those believing the hype that Hispanics are quickly trending Republican are reading exit polling instead of actual election results. Believing polls which depend on voters to accurately tell you what they did, versus believing election result analysis in which one can prove what they actually did, is dicey business. The fact is, while you can argue that Hispanics turn out in relatively low percentages in general elections, you cannot argue that they will soon be voting Republican in large percentages – they’re not. Peña represents a Democratic district, in a Democratic county, in a Democratic region. There’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t continue to win elections as a Democrat for as long as he wanted to serve.
I could make a pretty good case that one could draw Mr. Peña a Republican-leaning house district, even in that region – there is much more political diversity in Hidalgo County than many in Austin are aware. But drawing that district would make it extremely likely that Pena would face a stiff Republican primary challenge – one in which his ethnicity might be a liability instead of an asset, and in which his moderate voting record could be represented to primary voters as RINO-esque. He could lose in the primary, which is exactly what happened to Congressman Greg Laughlin in the coastal bend, in the first Republican primary after Laughlin switched parties.
And if Republicans are telling Peña that they’ll draw his district first, full of happy smiling Republicans for him to win with, they’re probably blowing smoke – there are already too many Republican incumbents in the House who will be scrambling to find every available Republican household to draw into too-many-districts. What Republican Redistricting Fairy is going to inform those other Republican incumbents that they won’t have a district to run in, because Aaron Peña, who has been a Republican for about ten minutes and has paid no dues, needs a district? This Republican Redistricting Fairy will undoubtedly patiently explain to other Republican incumbents that the Republicans in Peña’s district would have otherwise been stranded Republican households, trapped inside Democratic districts. The other Republicans, after being shown Lloyd Doggett’s hyper-gerrymandered fajita district of 2003, will know it’s not true, and will begin to suspect that the Redistricting Fairy just doesn’t know how to draw maps very well. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of that House Republican Caucus meeting.
So I have to conclude that if Peña is considering a switch, it is probably for ideological reasons – the same reason all party-switchers claim, but is hardly ever the truth. A conservative Democrat representing the border region, he may have a growing unease with what he perceives as an increasingly liberal Democratic establishment, and/or one which is tone deaf to the concerns of the border or Hispanic Texans.
We’ve all been there, buddy. It was probably between your 18th and 23rd birthdays. You were with that girlfriend you were getting tired of – the one who seemed like a great deal six months ago, but who eventually became annoying, shrill, and argumentative. Let’s face it: she was a bit of a nag. In fact, the only reason you got with her in the first place is because it’s what everybody expected you to do.
Remember the night you walked into that party with her (she’d probably been picking on you in the car ride), and there, standing on the other end of the room, was that brand new shiny hot exciting girl? The one who made you think “holy crap, I’d rather be with her!”
I bet she even gave you that “come on, baby – I’ll do things to you that she won’t do” look.
Problem is, once you move in with the new one, you discover that she’s absolutely insane – plus she’s a nag too, she just nags you about different stuff. Hanging out with the new one made you realize that the first one was…well, sane for starters. And all-around, not so bad. Maybe there was something to work with. But it’s too late – she moved on.
Bad analogy? You SO knew what you were getting into when you clicked into this site.
I’ve always been personally fond of Aaron Peña, and if he becomes a Republican I’ll be just as fond of him. The Republican Party, Democratic Party, Aaron Peña, Peña’s constituents, and the Texas House of Representatives – they’ll all be just fine no matter what decision he makes, or at least as fine as they were before this came up. But he certainly has some thinking to do.
But Aaron, take my word for it: the new girl may be hot, but she’s got some serious issues.