Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Texas State Rep. Aaron Peña “Hispanic Conservatism: Its Emergence in Texas Politics”

At La Plaza we believe robust and spirited dialogue is most conducive towards the betterment of the Latino community.  As such we invited Texas State Rep. Aaron Peña to share his thoughts on why he switched parties last December after being re-elected as a Democrat to his 5th term.  After his re-election he switched to the Republican Party.  The opinions in the following guest blog solely reflect those of Rep. Peña.

My values and those of the Democratic Party have drifted apart.

I have won elections in Deep South Texas on a platform of sensible investments in our teachers and public schools, fostering a climate where reasonable and fair taxes allow the state to provide services to its citizens while business and entrepreneurs are allowed to thrive.  Championing the principle that our government should be minimally involved in the private decisions of its people, my work in the Legislature has earned endorsements from teachers, law enforcement officials, hospitals and doctors.  I have maintained an A+ rating from the Texas State Rifle Association and have been endorsed by the Texas Right to Life Commission.   In the legislature I have worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to do what is best for my community and the State of Texas.  My values have not strayed from those ethos that are deeply ingrained in the people of South Texas — values rooted in deep family traditions and principles that hard work and fair play are rewards in and of itself.

For too long my community has suffered from a political environment that puts personalities and party bosses ahead of good ideas.   This climate has allowed bullies to flourish.  They have strong-armed communities into doing their bidding and have levied a tax of corruption on cities, counties, and school districts already operating on razor-thin margins.  The dominance of a single party has choked off debate and dissent.  Providing my community with a choice and creating some competition for voters will only serve to give them better public servants.

No party has a monopoly on good ideas and good intentions.  I have worked alongside wonderful people and have never qualified their willingness to serve by first indentifying which letter follows their last name.  I have disagreed with my colleagues on principle and not on a dogma perpetrated by partisanship.

The election in November served as a wakeup call, exposing how far Democrats have strayed from the conscience of the community.

On healthcare reform they have failed miserably to address some of the fundamental issues of cost and delivery.  There are small businessmen and women who have told me they fear they will have to close their doors — not because they don’t want to offer healthcare to their employees but because they won’t be able to afford it.  Conservatives and liberals alike can agree that there needs to be reform, but the fundamental disagreements on what those reforms are and how they are implemented cannot be dismissed.

On Border Security, President Obama and Democratic leaders have been absent in providing any real leadership on the issue.  Over the last year, and more notably in the last few months, the situation in Northern Mexico has reached critical mass.  There has not only been a lack of action by the federal government regarding the escalating Drug War, but the lack of a reaction is just as mystifying.  I chaired a committee on Emergency Preparedness this past year that took a deep and thoughtful assessment on our state’s security, and while I commend the work of federal law enforcement officers that put their lives on the line every day, there has been very little commitment to engage with the work of the committee from our leaders in Washington.   It has not only been disappointing, but it borders on negligence.

Our community and our country’s greatest asset is the ability of our people to be innovative and exceptional.   Government at all levels should be there to provide the infrastructure for people and ideas to achieve and succeed.  A bloated and inefficient government serves no one, but it does provide an opportunity for graft and complacency to thrive.  As elected officials, we are to act as stewards of our tax payers’ hard-earned money.  It is not a blank check.  In this current economy, families, individuals, and businesses alike are all doing more with less.  Our state government will not be an exception.

I believe in my heart that my decision to join the Republican Party will best serve my community.  The new census data recently released shows what many have been saying for years: Hispanics are driving the tremendous growth that Texas has experienced this last decade.  Those numbers are reflected in communities across many legislative districts across our state.  Republicans and Democrats are going to have to compete for votes from this important community or face a future of irrelevancy.  The ultimate agenda of the newly-created Hispanic Republican Conference of Texas is to give Hispanics a conservative choice that is respectful and thoughtful to the issues our communities hold dear.

My decision to switch parties was both difficult and easy at the same time.  I had a long and active career in Democratic politics at the local, state, and national level.  There are many who have questioned my decision.  Those who know me, however, know my values and can understand why I did it.  It takes a bit of faith to suspend the cynicism that most have towards politics to accept the fact that my choice to switch parties was made because I felt it was the right thing to do.

At end of the day, I represent those who do not have any political affiliation or subscribe to any political philosophy.  I represent conservatives and liberals and those in between. I represent those who do not vote or care to.   I represent my community and look forward to continue to do so.

State Rep. Aaron Peña was born in Austin, Texas on June 8, 1959 to Sylvia and Lionel Aron Peña.  He spent the first few years of his life in a small wooden home on the banks of Waller Creek just two blocks from the Capitol.  He graduated from Edinburg High School where he was a member of the choir and football team.  After high school, Peña attended UT Pan American in Edinburg, Texas before heading back to Austin where he received a B.A. from the University of Texas.

Like his father before him, he studied to be a lawyer, receiving his J.D. in 1987 from Texas Southern University in Houston.  He immediately returned to his hometown of Edinburg after graduation to raise his family and practice law. Peña enjoyed a celebrated career as one of the more accomplished employment trial attorneys in the state, later serving on the State Bar of Texas’ governing board for Labor and Employment attorneys.  In May 2001, the Peña family suffered a devastating loss with the death of their sixteen-year-old son John Austin Peña.  This life-altering experience and search for answers resulted in Peña’s move away from the practice of law and into the arena of public policy.

Running on an anti-drug, pro-education platform, he was easily elected to the newly-created 40th district anchored in his hometown of Edinburg. Representative Peña continues to fight the battle against drugs in his community and to find solutions for people dealing with drug addiction in their families.  Each October he dedicates the entire month to public presentations in elementary and high schools in recognition of Red Ribbon Month.  He is currently serving his 5th term as a Texas State Representative and lives with his wife, Monica, in Edinburg, Texas.

Rep. Aaron Pena Official Website



  1. WOW. While the guy is entitled to his opinion and if he wants to jump ship all of a sudden to another party he has the right do so in this free country…BUT he does NOT have the right to have duped people who elected him as a DEMOCRAT not a REPUBLICAN. He should have resigned and ran in a special election as a Republican to see if he would have won! How shady…

    • I agree…everyone has the right to switch to whatever party they want to associate themselves with but he went about it the wrong way…personally I think he’s in it for himself and not the people he represents!

  2. Never heard of such a thing happening…and frankly even after reading this still don’t understand why he did it. How can he support a party that is spewing so much anti-Hispanic rhetoric out there with all these bogus immigration laws like SB 1070. Don’t understand how he can cozy up with all those crazies.

  3. I hope Democrats are listening. You can’t take it for granted that Latinos are always going to support the Democratic Party…

  4. If Rep. Peña felt he can serve the Valley better as a Republican all the power to him but he should have ran as a Republican. Replicans have scapegoated Hispanics for the economic ills in our country and they have been justly rewarded for it in the Valley with no political victories they can call their own.

    Now Republicans in Texas want to introduce similar laws to SB 1070 in Arizona. I believe Rep. Peña is a good man but how in good conscience can he stand with a party that would racially profile Latinos in his own community?

  5. Pancho Valdez says

    As a former Democratic precinct chair I can say with authority that neither the Democratic or Republican parties truly represent the interests of most working class Latinos.
    What Pena did is so typical of a politician with NO scruples, NO morals! May the good Lord forgive him for his deceit!


  1. […] “La Plaza” Blog highlighted a guest post by Texas State Rep. Aaron Peña titled “Hispanic Conservatism: Its Emergence in Texas Politics.” The blog invited Rep. Peña to write about why he switched to the Republican Party. Pena, […]