Vela was first elected in 2012 and represents much of the South Texas Gulf Coast. News of his retirement was first reported by Axios.
“It has been an honor to represent the citizens of the 34th District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives for the last eight years,” he said in a text to The Texas Tribune. “I will not be seeking reelection to the House of Representatives in 2022. I will continue to focus on maintaining a Democratic House and Senate Majority in my capacity as a member of Congress and Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, while working diligently for the people I am so grateful to represent.
“It is now time to allow other residents of South Texas the opportunity to fulfill this wonderful privilege for which I will be forever grateful,” he added.
Jose Borjon, a former senior adviser to Vela and a longtime confidant, said Vela never meant to overstay his time in Congress and felt now was the time to move on.
“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 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 4 points.
“Filemon Vela knows Biden’s border crisis will cost him his seat and Democrats their House majority,” said House GOP campaign arm spokesperson Torunn Sinclair. “Texans deserve a congressman who is going to stand up to Biden’s open border agenda, not defend it.”
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’ 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.”
During his time in Congress, Vela has focused on agriculture and defense issues, and he is a popular member of the Democratic caucus. He frequently brought colleagues for fundraisers in Texas and used the opportunity to show powerful members his district’s infrastructure needs.
He was also an early support of Biden’s campaign for president, and he urged his fellow Texans and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to get behind Biden’s bid for the Democratic nomination.
Vela was best known in his time for firing off a missive at then-candidate Donald Trump, telling him to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.