McALLEN, RGV – Who should run to succeed Rubén Hinojosa as U.S. Representative for Texas Congressional District 15? This was the big talking point at a packed Koko’s Uptown restaurant in McAllen on Saturday.
Saturday was the first day for candidates to file for the March 2016 primaries. At the restaurant, Hidalgo County Democratic Party leaders were on hand to accept applications for various elected positions. They called the event ‘Filing Frenzy.’
“Look around the room. It is packed. You can see the interest here. You can feel the excitement,” said Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Ric Godinez. “I really think the Hidalgo County Democratic Party is alive and well and functioning. We have a great bench and fantastic candidates that have filed today and I am looking forward to a lively primary.”
Congressman Hinojosa surprised some with an announcement Friday that he would not seek re-election. He has served in Congress for almost 20 years.
State Rep. Oscar Longoria of La Joya said he intends to file for re-election in Austin in the coming days. However, he said he is getting calls from supporters asking if he will run for CD 15. Longoria said he would like to see a group of community leaders get together to find a “consensus” candidate to be the Democrats’ choice to replace Hinojosa.
“I think a good rational way of doing this is to get all the stakeholders, everybody that is interested in this seat to kind of come together and really rally around one candidate. When you have a seven-, eight-or ten-person race, it is going to be an all-out brawl and I do not think anybody benefits from that,” Longoria said.
Asked if he is considering running for CD 15, Longoria said: “I am mulling it over. I have had a couple of people call me. It is a big decision so we are thinking about it.”
Asked what there is to think about given that an open congressional seat does not come about that often, Longoria said: “It is a big role and I have thought about it. In Washington, D.C., you can help make decisions that affect the whole nation. But, more importantly, have a great impact in our community. I did not anticipate the Congressman retiring. He is in great health. I understand that after 20 years you probably do want to come home and spend time with your family. It does consume a lot of your time. I have a young family. I have a four-year old and a baby who is going to be one at the end of this month. It is a very difficult decision to make because of factors like that, because of your family, because of all your travel time, the amount of time you are going to spend in D.C., rather than here. Plus, the district is vast, you are going all the way to Seguin.”
Longoria said another thing to consider, especially for a potential candidate living on the western end of the Rio Grande Valley, is the possibility, due to population growth, of a new Valley-anchored congressional district being created during the next round of redistricting in 2021. “At this time numerous names have popped out there (for CD 15). It is one of those things where there is going to be a lot of candidates. I would like the community to get a consensus on one candidate. It would make things a lot easier because it is an important seat. But, ultimately I think it will be a race with several individuals in it.”
The name of Armando Martinez has come up as a possible candidate for Congressional District 15. Martinez, the Mid Valley state representative, said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of interest there is in him running for Congress. However, on Saturday he filed for re-election.
“I was in Houston when news broke about Rubén. My phone has been ringing off the wall ever since. I am really appreciative of all the support I am getting. Obviously, a lot of people believe I would represent this region well in Washington. But, right now we are focused on our district. Unless things change, Congress is not in our plans. Our plan is to run for state Rep, to get elected as state Rep, and to continue to serve our people,” Martinez said.
Martinez said he is particularly proud of the work he has done as vice chairman of the House Committee on Transportation. “Steve, you have been in Austin. You have seen the legislation we have filed, the amount of money we have brought to the Valley. Transportation-wise we are in a very good position. If we were to lose that vice-chairmanship of transportation I do not think we would see anything like that again for the Valley. While there are a lot of things to consider, right now, at this time, state representative is the right position for me.”
Joel Quintanilla, the former Hidalgo County Commissioner from Mercedes, said he, too, has been receiving a lot of calls from people urging him to run for CD 15. “The Mid Valley is the heart of Congressman Hinojosa’s district. I have been very blessed and fortunate. I have received a lot of calls, a lot of people asking me to consider the congressional seat. I am honored,” Quintanilla said.
“It is something to consider at this point. I have not made a decision. I need to look at it. It is a big district and we need to see what will be in the best interests of this district of ours. I do appreciate all the constituents that have called. I feel honored that people have sought me out and asked me to consider this congressional seat. We only have a month to decide. If we make the decision we would really have to fast-track it,” Quintanilla added.
Other names being mentioned as potential Democratic candidates for Congressional District 15 include Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez, and Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios.
Selina Medrano, a Hidalgo County Democratic Party leader and campaign consultant, said she hopes there are no efforts to “impose” a Democratic candidate for CD 15 on the electorate.
“I think where we are right now is very healthy. I would love to have a perfect world and we would all get behind one candidate. But I also think that having several candidates wanting to vie for this one spot, a seat that has not been vacant for some 20-odd years, is excellent because we need those people to unite the vote,” Medrano said.
“We always have a problem with voter participation in the Valley and I think any kind of energy like this, the energy that all these candidates will have, will bring out more votes. At the end of the day that is the bigger picture – that we look at the top of the ticket and make sure we are putting Democrats in office. So, regardless of how many people are running, as long as we get behind that one Democrat that wins the primary, that we get behind him or her in the General Election, that is all that matters. But, I think it can be nothing but good for our party to have a number of candidates.”
Asked how many Democratic primary candidates there might be in CD 15, Medrano said: “I have heard ten different names but I am hoping we can boil it down to something under five. That would be great.”
Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Godinez said Saturday’s event at Koko’s was evidence of how healthy the situation is for the party right now.
“I’m really excited that the party and the base seems to be energized. Once you see that happening it energizes the candidates. You saw that today. The candidates were here, they were talking; they were having a good time. Perhaps even a few deals got cut here, for all I know. If you energize the base it is just going to move the party up which only means we are going to have a good turnout in our primary,” Godinez said.
Asked how much interest there is in the CD 15 race, Godinez said: “There is a lot of interest. There have been ten or 15 names floating around. Obviously it is a tremendously important position for our area. Tremendous shoes to fill with Congressman Hinojosa announcing he will not seek re-election. After the next couple of days I think you will see the dust settle and the more serious candidates will come about. I fully expect there will be some announcements mid- to late next week.”
Asked if he favors community and business leaders getting together to choose a “consensus” candidate, Godinez said: “I see both sides of it. Usually, when you have a group of businessmen and politicos get together to unite behind one candidate, that tells me there are several candidates already interested and they do not want to run the risk of losing whatever power they currently have to step forward and run for a seat. On the other side of that, who wants this important decision being made by a small group of people? And so I think there is going to be a balance of that. I think you will see the more establishment-type candidates get together and perhaps have one or two (candidates) and then it will be open for everybody else, for all Democrats to review and get behind. Like anything else it is usually going to be the one that is better funded and has the better ground game that wins. That is how I view it.”
Kenna Giffin, secretary of Hidalgo County Democratic Party, said she could see the CD 15 race costing a serious candidate upwards of $2 million.