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U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela steps down, setting up a heated battle for his South Texas district

Vela’s resignation is effective at 11:59 p.m. Thursday in a move he said was coming. Gov. Greg Abbott can now call a special election to fill his unfinished term.

THE TEXAS TRIBUNE – U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela will formally resign from Congress late Thursday in a move that officially kicks off what’s expected to be a scramble to replace him in a special election.

Vela, D-Brownsville, previously announced his intention to step down before the end of his term because he intends on taking a job with Akin Gump, a prominent lobbying and law firm.

"I write to inform you that I have notified Texas Governor Greg Abbott of my resignation from the U.S. House of Representatives, effective today at 11:59 PM EST," he wrote to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "It has been a profound honor to represent the people of the 34th Congressional District of Texas for the last nine years, and my distinct pleasure to serve under your leadership."

Now that the resignation is official, Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to set a special election date — a development that Republicans are relishing as part of their offensive targeting three congressional seats in South Texas this fall.

A special election will be a complicated affair.

Whoever wins will only serve for the remainder of Vela’s unfinished term, which is a matter of months. The November general election will determine who serves the next full term representing the 34th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is the Democratic nominee for that next two-year term that begins in January. He currently represents the nearby 15th Congressional District and switched to the 34th District in this year’s general election due to redistricting. He has said he has no plans to resign from his current seat to run in a special election for Vela’s unfinished term.

Because it’s too late for new general election candidates, any other Democrats interested in running for the seat in the special election will only be able to hold it for a matter of months. Republicans are already eyeing the special election as an opportunity to show their growing strength in the region.

GOP activist Mayra Flores is the Republican nominee for the November campaign, and she intends to run in the special election. If she won that special election, she and Gonzalez would face off in a rare U.S. House race between two sitting members in November.

Vela carried the district in 2020 by about 14 points.

This report originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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