Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Unauthorized Defense of Aaron Peña

Yesterday was the big day that Texas State Representative Aaron Peña announced that he would switch to the Republican Party. There have been many questions with respect to why he would do it. There many many vicious accusations of betrayal, or doing it for opportunism.

Overall, the Democratic Party, which is bleeding power in the current political climate is behaving like a wounded animal, lashing out at anything that causes further injury. In that sense, I can understand some of the reaction. However, since we're talking about people, I had hoped that reason would play a larger role in peoples' reactions.

Let's Get it Out of the Way

Many of you know, or are about to find out, that I work part-time for Peña. He and I haven't talked about his decision to switch parties. I found out on Twitter just like many of you that he would be switching. And, we have not had time to sit down and talk about his motivations. But, I can guess based on my own experience. First, let me lay out some facts.

A Few Facts

Fact 1: The Rio Grande Valley is a safe Democratic region. If you have a D next to your name, you have almost a 2 to 1 chance of winning in the general election.
Fact 2: Democrats run almost all of the public offices in the region, except for some judges and appointments by the Governor.
Fact 3: Peña's district has a lot of poverty and rural areas that stand to suffer from the budget cuts that are sure to take place in this legislative session.
Fact 4: Other Democrats who have flipped are in districts that have become conservative, unlike Peña's district (I think this puzzles people the most).
Fact 5: There are going to be budget cuts to deal with a $25 Billion shortfall. Boy, are there going to be budget cuts!
Fact 6: Redistricting is back. In the superminority, Democrats have little say in how their districts are drawn.
Fact 7: Republicans have a supermajority in the Texas House.

I think that last fact needs to be expanded a little. What does it mean that Republicans have a supermajority? Peña was one of the Killer Ds who left to Oklahoma to break quorum in the redistricting fight early in his legislative career. Without quorum, the House cannot pass laws.

With a Republican supermajority, if all House Democrats banded together and squeezed really tight, they couldn't stop a fart from passing. Breaking quorum is not an option this time around. Democrats can, at most, chub bills before Sine Die, or *gasp* cut deals with Republicans in exchange for... what?

What Were Our Options?

What options do House Democrats have at stopping budget cuts and immigration bills harmful to our region? What options do House Democrats have at redrawing districts that maximize their chances at winning reelection? Clearly, in this legislative session, the deck is very stacked against the Democratic Party of Texas achieving their aims. Even worse, redistricting is going to kick over their anthills.

I have not had a chance to discuss Peña's motivations with him; but to me, these are major problems facing the Rio Grande Valley. I don't mean just District 40. I mean the entire Rio Grande Valley. While our region's strength has been a unified voice through the Democratic party, in this session, it paints a big red target on us.

Uphill Battle

The problem I have with people accusing Aaron of being an opportunist is that he has to gain something big in return for the major sacrifice of losing your support. We naturally distrust politicians, and most of them deserve it; but, the Rep. has had no personal gain in all these years. I don't expect that to change.

You've seen the election numbers; it is going to be one hell of a fight to be reelected as a Republican. So, there has to be a BIG payoff. The problem is that a BIG payoff can't be hidden, as other elected officials have discovered. Clearly, Peña has a lot to lose by switching.

Yet, the Rio Grande Valley has a lot to gain from this defection. But, it all hinges on one thing, that Aaron Peña is still Aaron Peña. When you change parties, you don't get reprogrammed. As a Democrat, Aaron voted his district. I don't see that changing either.

Peña is not suddenly going to start hating the poor and walking around in a white hood (a popular mischaracterization of Republicans). Anybody who has paid attention to his voting record would know that he has been a moderate Democrat. In fact, he got more grief from Democrats because he wasn't Democrat enough for their likes. I think that he'll probably get grief from the ultra conservatives for not being Republican enough for their likes.

Clearly, becoming a Republican is not a walk on easy street for the Rep.; because, it's not about him.

What It's Probably All About

What does the Rio Grande Valley have to gain from having a Republican legislator in this session?
1. More say in redistricting, which will affect our region for many years to come. Yes, Peña is drawing YOUR districts.
2. More say in how much State programs get cut, or don't get cut.
3. More say in moderating bills that offend Hispanic sensibilities.
4. Better chance at getting bills through committee and on the House floor.

It's obvious to me that the Rio Grande Valley is getting the better deal here. Our other elected officials can eat their cake and have his too.

Tough Choices

Whatever shortcomings Rep. Peña has, I do respect that he looks out for his district and his people. Knowing him these few years, I know that his decision to switch parties is rooted in carrying out his duty to those who elected him, even when they don't understand. I've seen him anguish over tough political decisions. This can't have been easier.

He has doubled my respect by doing what he has done despite knowing the vicious attacks and rejection that would be hurled his way by the very people he is trying to protect.

Like it or not, what Aaron Peña has done will affect the entire region's future for many years to come. Open your eyes beyond District 40. Look at all that Aaron Peña touches and how that affects our future prosperity in the RGV. Look at what ALL Rio Grande Valley districts have to gain by having a friend amongst those who would otherwise make decisions for us and without us.

Does he face a monumental reelection challenge? Absolutely, without question.

Could he stand around on the sidelines while an opposing party hacks his region to pieces? Abolutely not.

His conscience would not allow it. You're looking at one legislative session; he's looking at the coming decade. Lift your gaze from what is immediately before you; you will see the many years of hardship that are beyond if nobody is there to speak for us amongst an unstoppable majority.

At this point, I look forward to hearing from the Rep. himself what his motivations are. I have a good enough sense that his first thought is towards protecting his community.

I didn't ask for permission to write this post. I've abstained from political blogging these past few years because it complicates things for our office. But, given that everybody hates him now anyway, I feel compelled to write this on my day off because I have been a witness to his way of thinking. Normally, I'm a fly on the wall in these matters; but, clearly, everybody is attributing nefarious motives where none exist.

If you don't understand why Aaron Peña would switch parties, then at least cut him some slack. Though it's not immediately apparent, he's going to do right for his district, his county, and his region.


Writer said...

Post in MySA

Mary Moreno said...

My biggest concern with his party switch is his inability to articulate the move. Even the Express-News couldn't get a good answer out of him

And the move sends a message of endorsement of the GOP's hideously anti-Latino platform. The way the Texas GOP has swung further to the right, if you're right about Pena's decency, he'll find there's no room for him under their tent. Still, when he comes to his senses, I hope the Valley won't forgive him.

tretogarza said...

There is no right answer to this. He is a "free man". His allegiance is to his constituents. We have not heard from them. He has done good in the past, there is no doubt in my mind that he will do good in the future. In this "political correctness world", everyone wants to know why someone does something. What word will they use to describe Rep. Pena from now on??
The word verification to post was "shingatt", is this spanglish? It fits the occasion.

Writer said...

Mary, that's precisely my point. As a Democrat, he would be powerless to mitigate anti-latino legislation. At most, he could have called Republicans ugly names for all the good that would do.

Also, you're quick to point out the Republican party's swing to the right. You should know that for years, Peña has received a constant barrage of attacks for not being left enough.

So, if he's not left enough or right enough for either party, all he can do is continue to follow his conscience as he has these many years.

He has represented his people well and will continue to do so under a new brand. I assure you, he has complete command of his senses.

Step back and look. Unless another RGV rep flips, he's our only voice that will matter.

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