By Jim Ellis
March 24, 2021 — A trio of veteran House members announced Monday that they won’t seek re-election in 2022. Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Filemon Vela (D-TX) will retire, while Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) declared his candidacy for the Georgia Secretary of State position.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)
Tom Reed was first elected in 2010 and, at the time of his initial campaign, took a six-term limit pledge. The next election brings him to the end of his originally promised congressional service calendar. Earlier in the year, however, Rep. Reed had been making overtures about running for governor, especially when incumbent Andrew Cuomo (D) began running into political trouble. Rep. Reed even went so far as to begin hiring statewide campaign staff.
Late last week, however, accusations of him being drunk in public and becoming inappropriate with a female lobbyist several years ago began to surface. Originally, Rep. Reed said such accusations were false, but yesterday accompanied his retirement message with an apology for his past behavior.
The Reed retirement decision is likely good news for neighboring GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford). You will remember that she defeated former Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) by just 109 votes in the November election, a race that consumed more than three months to determine the final outcome. She originally won the 22nd District in 2016, but lost to Brindisi, then a state assemblyman, in 2018.
New York looks to lose at least one seat in reapportionment, and the Reed and Tenney districts rank 27th and 26th in population, respectively, among the 27 New York congressional seats. With Reed departing, the upstate map becomes much easier to draw in that his seat can be collapsed into hers, presenting Tenney with a larger but very likely more Republican district from which she could seek re-election.
Under this scenario, should it occur as described, her most serious competition would very likely come in the Republican primary instead of the general election. Securing local party support in her new counties would become Tenney’s first step in securing the GOP nomination under such a redistricting projection.
Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)
Rep. Vela’s retirement announcement after what will be five complete terms in the House comes as a surprise. He did, however, experience his tightest election of his five victories in November, but still won with a 55-42 percent majority. President Biden, however, only carried the 34th District, anchored in Brownsville on the Texas-Mexico border, with a 52-48 percent margin, down from 59-38 percent victory spread Hillary Clinton recorded in 2016.
This is another of the South Texas districts that performed much better for Republicans in the 2020 election than in years past. Whether the rise in competitiveness here was a driver in the 58-year-old Vela’s decision to retire, is unknown right now.
Texas is slated to gain three seats in reapportionment, and while it is unlikely the border area is going to obtain one of those, a reconfiguration for Republican map drawers now becomes easier without Rep. Vela’s presence. The GOP, by virtue of controlling the state legislature and governor’s office, will have the redistricting pen and it is conceivable that a new open seat in the South Texas region could become more competitive based upon the recent political swing.
In 2020, the neighboring Democratic House Members in Districts 15 and 28 saw Reps. Vincente Gonzalez (D-McAllen) and Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) win with 50 and 58 percent of the vote. President Biden carried the two districts with reduced margins, 50-48.5 percent (TX-15) and 52-47 percent (TX-28).
As we move further to the southwest, two more seats in the region a also saw Republican gains. GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio) was a surprise winner in the open 23rd District, and President Biden fell to ex-President Trump 50-48 percent, even when remembering Hillary Clinton carried the same district with a 50-46 percent margin in 2016. In the El Paso anchored 16th District, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D) won re-election with a strong 65-35 percent margin, but even that was down from her 68-27 percent victory margin in 2018.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA)
Rep. Hice has made it official that he’s running for Georgia Secretary of State, settling the expectation that he would do so based upon rumors surfacing from the state last week. Incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s (R) image has become intensely negative since he became the focal point of the election fraud accusations emanating from President Trump. To underscore matters, Hice’s announcement was already accompanied with an endorsement release from the former president.
Previously, former Alpharetta mayor and 2018 Secretary of State candidate David Belle Isle (R) announced that he would again challenge Raffensperger. We can likely expect more Republican primary contenders as this will become a major primary campaign. At this point, the secretary of state has not announced his 2022 political plans.
In this particular instance a crowded field does not necessarily help Secretary Raffensperger as it might incumbents in other states. Georgia is a primary runoff state, meaning that Raffensperger will likely eventually face an opponent in a one-on-one situation. If forced to a runoff, a southern incumbent in such a situation typically loses since he or she was unable to garner an absolute majority in the first nomination vote.
While redistricting could clearly affect the competition level in the Reed and Vela seats, Rep. Hice’s eastern Georgia district should easily remain in Republican hands. In addition to these three members, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), as we reported last week, is the other House incumbent to announce plans to retire.