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Texas House Democrat Lozano To Go Republican

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J.M. Lozano (credit: The Texas Tribune)

AUSTIN (THE TEXAS TRIBUNE) - State House Rep. J.M. Lozano, D-Kingsville, will announce this week that he will join the Republican Party. He said that his decision is based, in part, on the new makeup of his district, whose constituents he said are in line with Republican values.

“It’s been a long weekend,” said Lozano, who was first elected in 2010. “Basically, I was sad to lose the counties I did, but at the same time it was very fortunate to pick up Jim Wells, San Patricio and Bee counties.

“I had a conservative voting record this session, which was pro-life, pro-oil and gas development, and pro-small-business. And I am a small-business owner,” he said. “Those values and these voters are in line with the Republican Party.”

Lozano said he would make a public announcement this week.

Lozano said part of his inspiration came from a recent conversation with George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush. George P. Bush co-founded the Hispanic Republicans of Texas PAC, which he told The Texas Tribune had a mission to “focus on the campaign-finance element of Hispanic outreach” and the “mechanics of educating Latinos to actually run for office.”

The fact that George P. Bush has Mexican roots resonated with Lozano, who was born in Guadalajara and became a naturalized citizen in 1986, at the age of 6.

“We shared a very common characteristic and trait in our lives, both our mothers are from Mexico,” he said. Lozano also said he shares the hard-working values of his father, who came to the U.S. on a skilled-immigrant visa as a doctor.

“Once elected, God willing, I can bring that perspective to the GOP,” he said, adding that his attempt to take the Democrats in the direction of small-business interests was “fruitless.”

Lozano will be the third Democrat to switch parties, after Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, and Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, switched in late 2010. Like Peña’s switch, however, Lozano’s decision is sure to cause a stir given the Latino legislator represents a portion of the Texas border traditionally known as a Democratic stronghold.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie called the move “unprincipled and cowardly.”

Richie said that just 15 months ago, Lozano was elected to office as a Democrat. “The instant things got tough, Lozano jumped ship and joined a party that has betrayed his constituents,” Richie said in a prepared statement. “Lozano is joining the party that decimated the schools in his district and gutted financial aid for students, all because he thinks it’ll help him stay in office.”

HD-43 is a classic swing district. In the 2010 Republican sweep, the average statewide Republican beat the average statewide Democrat by 11.3 percentage points. Gov. Rick Perry beat his Democratic challenger Bill White 52.1 percent to 45.8 percent that year.

In 2008, it was a Democratic district, with the average statewide Democrat winning by 7.1 percentage points. At the top of the ballot, however, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain bested Democrat Barack Obama 51.5 percent to 48 percent.

The district includes four counties. More than 63 percent of the adult population is Hispanic, and 35 percent is Anglo. Over the last two election cycles, the Republicans had a slight edge, but not enough of one to scare away a candidate from either party.

Kenneth Flippin, Lozano’s campaign manager during his 2010 contest, said he did not think his former boss would make it to the November general election.

“I have spoken with him, and I can confirm that is his intent,” he said. “I am extremely disappointed he made this decision to switch parties. I think it’s short-sighted and not clearly thought out.”

If he did make it to November, Flippin said that though Lozano may be able to use his reputation and his influence to keep support among some Democrats, he said most Democrats would come out in force during in November.

“The national dynamics make it a district where it really doesn’t matter whose name is on there,” Flippin said.

Lozano responded by saying Flippin did not know his district the way he does.

“The issues down there are simple,” he said. “Ask people: ‘Are you pro-life? Yes. Are you pro oil-and-gas? Yes. Do you want your children to pledge allegiance under God? Do you want your football team to, on a Friday night, be able to say a prayer?”

He added about his district: “If the [Environmental Protection Agency] and [President] Obama had their way, those counties would be ghost towns.”

Despite his conservative voting record during the 82nd Legislature, Lozano cast two votes with his soon-to-be former party on volatile issues: voter ID and “sanctuary cities” legislation.

He said his “sanctuary cities” vote, which would have denied state funds for local entities that prevented local law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status, was not a party-line vote for him. He said it was based on the fact that no one could prove that any so-called sanctuary cities existed. On voter ID, he said the legislation did not go far enough to increase voter turnout.

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