Like my former colleague, Patricia Kilday Hart, I always found Aaron Pena to be one of the Legislature’s most interesting members. Pena had no use for the Valley Democratic establishment. Hart chronicled his alienation from the power brokers in a profile for TEXAS MONTHLY earlier this year. He was known to his constituents as a frequent blogger about the Capitol; what was less well known was that he was a reluctant Democrat who loathed the machine politicians who practice petty corruption at election time. It was hardly surprising, then, when Pena switched parties following the 2010 Republican sweep and helped found the House Hispanic Republican caucus. Pena believed that the Democrats in the Valley were scripting their fate by continuing their old-style tactics of using politqueras — women who were paid to hustle votes — and refused to have anything to do with it; astonishingly, both the incumbent district attorney and his challenger said they would not hire politiqueras in the 2010 elections. I had several conversations with Pena over the years, and I think he is right that in the long run, old-style politics, a la Kino Flores, in South Texas will inevitably fail, as the Valley becomes increasingly affluent. The emerging business class will have nothing to do with the corrupt politics and will increasingly abandon the Democratic party, because the old-line Democrats will never change their ways. Democrats vowed to beat him this time around, and Pena himself admitted that there was no way he or any Republican could win in his new district. It had come to the point that Pena would rather lose as a Republican than win as a Democrat. I hate to see him driven out of the Legislature, but he paid the price for being a straight-arrow.
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