Texas State Rep. Aaron PeÃ±a, of the state’s 40th district, is expected to switch parties today, thereby giving Republicans a super majority in the Texas house, The McAllen Monitor reports.PeÃ±a was first elected as a Democrat in 2002 and ran unopposed this year. He will bring the GOP to 100 members in the 150 member House. But PeÃ±a is actually the second Democrat to flip this week. State Rep. Allan Ritter, who also ran unopposed in November, announced this weekend that he would join the GOP, and is scheduled to appear at a news conference today alongside Gov. Rick Perry and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The Dallas Morning News reports that State Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie has called on Ritter to resign.
Republicans gained 22 seats in the Texas House in November, and a special election is being held today to fill the seat of Republican Rep. Edmund Kuempe, who died of a heart attack after last month’s election. A win there would give Republican 101 seats.
PeÃ±a’s move is notable because he comes from a traditionally Democratic stronghold, Hidalgo County in south Texas. The Monitor reports that 71 percent of voters there voted a Democratic straight ticket in November. PeÃ±a met privately with Hidalgo County Republican Party Chair Javier Villalobos yesterday, and Villalobos told The Rio Grande Guardian afterwords that he was confident PeÃ±a would flip.
“We Republicans welcome him and we congratulate him on his courage,” Villalobos said.
Earlier this month, PeÃ±a gave an interview to the Guardian in which he strongly criticized the Democratic party in Texas, and warned that they were in danger of losing the Hispanic vote on many issues.
“The Democratic Party in Texas has got decades of rebuilding to do. Their dream of demographic salvation is an illusion,” PeÃ±a said in the interview. He gave three examples of policy issues where some Hispanic voters do not support the Democratic platform:
“Many Hispanics, and especially rural Hispanics, support gun rights. The Democratic Party, traditionally, has not been very receptive to Second Amendment Rights.
“Many older Hispanics are Pro-Life yet the Democratic Party does not seem to be very reflective of that or respective of that position.
“Many Hispanics are pro-small business and many open and run small businesses, yet the State Democratic Party and those who say they speak for it do not stand with small businesses on many issues.
PeÃ±a’s office could not confirm or deny the party switch, and told TPM only that the Representative would be holding a press conference at some time today.