For Romney, ‘model’ policy on migration isn’t SB 1070

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State Rep. J. M. Lozano said Monday he will switch parties and become a Republican, making him the second South Texas lawmaker to abandon the Democratic Party in what has traditionally been a blue corner of the state.

In a phone interview, Lozano said he plans to formally announce his decision Thursday in Austin and in his home district, which includes Kingsville and stretches along the Gulf Cost to the Rio Grande Valley, near the border with Mexico.

The move further pads the GOP House supermajority, giving the Republicans 102 of 150 seats. But the Legislature is not set to meet again until next year, meaning his switch will matter only if Gov. Rick Perry calls a special session – something Perry says he has no plans to do.

Elected in 2010, Lozano filed for re-election as a Democrat on Nov. 30, just three days after the filing period opened. A second filing period has begun, however, after a legal battle over the Texas redistricting maps delayed the state’s primary until May 29.

Lozano’s district was altered significantly by maps drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature, but those maps may change again based on the forthcoming decision of a federal court in Washington. The Texas Democratic Party says no other Democrat has filed to challenge Lozano.

Lozano said his decision had less to do with redistricting and more to do with his support of oil and natural gas exploration, his opposition to abortion and other conservative convictions popular with his constituents.

“My job now is to let the Hispanic community know that our values are welcome in the Republican Party,” he said.

Lozano becomes the third Democratic state representative to change parties in less than 18 months. In December 2010, Rep. Allan Ritter of Nederland, east of Houston, became a Republican, as did Rep. Aaron Pena, who represents the Rio Grande Valley community of Edinburg.

Pena has since announced he’s not planning to seek re-election this year, however, after he said the redrawn voting maps made it impossible for a Republican to win in his district.

South Texas has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, but Lozano said the state party leadership ignored the issues most important to him. The owner of a trio of chicken wing franchises, Lozano was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen at 6.

He said he was persuaded to change parities after a conversation this week with George P. Bush, the founder of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas political action committee. He is also the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush.

“We talked about everything, our lives and how there’s this misconception out there that the Republican Party is not welcome to Hispanics,” Lozano said.

The Texas Democratic Party called Lozano’s decision “unprincipled and cowardly.”

“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,” Chairman Boyd Richie said in a statement. “He’s proven he has no core and stands for nothing but his quest to grab and hold power.”

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