Thursday, July 21, 2011

State Rep. Aaron Peña Invites Potential Candidates to Run Against Him

Peña: Run, Dolly, Run

21 July 2011
Steve Taylor

EDINBURG, July 21 - Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo may have more than $100,000 available for a Texas House District 41 campaign but she will not be allowed to run.

That is the view of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, whom Elizondo wants to challenge and defeat. Peña was a Democrat all of his adult life until he switched parties last December. He said he knows how the Democratic Party operates in Hidalgo County.

“Just as certain as the sun comes up tomorrow, the political bosses that run the Democratic Party down here will not let Dolly run,” Peña said, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian. “I want Dolly to run. I want all of them to run. More power to them. Run, Dolly, run.”

Peña did not say who the “political bosses” are but he did say they exert a lot of power.

“One of the reasons why the Democratic Party is dysfunctional is because they make decisions from a Star Chamber. This is supposed to be the Democratic Party and a democratic process. It is not supposed to be about backroom deals,” he said.

Elizondo has said she is considering a run for District 41, which was drastically changed by Republican lawmakers during the redistricting process to include dozens more GOP-leaning precincts. Peña, who currently represents heavily Democratic District 40, was drawn into the district by his Republican colleagues in the Texas House.

Annie’s List, an Austin-based group that seeks to elect more progressive women to elected office in Texas, believes Elizondo would make a great representative for District 41. Annie’s List Executive Director Robert Jones told the Guardian that the group stands ready to commit upwards of $100,000 to a progressive woman candidate in order to defeat Peña.

Elizondo told the Guardian earlier this month that she and other leading Democrats want to avoid a costly and potentially bruising primary battle in District 41. Rather, she said, she and others plan to meet privately to choose a candidate District 41 Democrats can rally behind. It that was to happen, minimal resources would need to be expended in the primary, with the war chest preserved for the general election fight against Peña.

Peña can sit back and watch the Democrats slug it out from now until the March primary knowing he will not need to engage until the general election campaign gets underway after March. It is naturally in his interest to see a knock down, drag out fight among Democrats.

“I believe I reflect the values of this district and as long as it is about issues I believe I will defeat them,” he said.

In addition to Elizondo, the names of Edinburg businessman T.C. Betancourt, Edinburg attorney Sergio Sanchez, and McAllen attorney and former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair R.D. “Bobby” Guerra have been talked about as potential candidates in the Democratic Party primary for District 41. Betancourt told the Guardian this week that he will formally announce his candidacy within the next few weeks.

With regard to Elizondo, Peña said the local Democratic Party leadership will not allow liberals from Austin to dictate who the candidate is. “Annie’s List is a far left-leaning organization and does not represent the values of the district,” Peña said.

With regard to Betancourt and Sanchez, Peña said he sees himself in them. “When I first ran people told me I could not. They said I needed to have the permission of the bosses; that I had to kiss the ring. I did not wait, I just ran and they have been after me ever since. So, more power to Mr. Betancourt and the other fellow. I see myself in some of these people,” he said.

With regard to Guerra, Peña pointed out that he grew up just a block away from him. “His family is a lot like my family. I don’t think he is aware outside the Valley how different the party is. If he were to win, I don’t think they would tolerate him. The progressives don’t want a centrist like Bobby,” he said.

Peña acknowledged it was strange for a Republican to be giving advice on how to democratize the workings of the Democratic Party. However, he said his former colleagues were so dysfunctional that something has to be done. He criticized “leftist” groups in Austin for dictating what Valley Democrats should do and say, and he criticized local “political bosses” for not allowing a free flow of ideas or young talent to emerge.

“I am giving them advice and I’m a Republican,” Peña said. “The Valley people still think they are the basis of the party. They are. They just let Austin run them.”

This appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian, on July 21, 2010. The author is Steve Taylor.

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