Originally posted at The El Paso Times by Marty Schladen on 4/2/15

AUSTIN >> Four months after his narrow defeat, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego on Thursday announced that he will in 2016 try to regain his West Texas congressional seat, which includes Socorro and much of the Lower Valley.

The Alpine, Texas, Democrat said that poor performance by Republican Rep. Will Hurd specifically and Congress generally convinced him to run again.

"The dysfunction in Congress has — if anything — gotten worse," Gallego said.

Hurd said Gallego's announcement is irrelavent.

"Good for him, I welcome the challenge," Hurd said Thursday while in El Paso. "I'm focusing on providing services to the district, services they haven't gotten for a decade."

An expert said that the political winds should be at Gallego's back next year, but he cautioned that the former congressman and state lawmaker will still face a tough race against an attractive incumbent who will have the backing of the Republican leadership in the U.S. House.

"This will be one of the most widely watched as well as one of the most expensive races in the country," said Mark Jones, chairman of the Rice University Political Science Department.

Congressional District 23 is geographically the largest among those that don't span an entire state, such as that in Alaska. It stretches from Socorro to western San Antonio and southeast along the Mexican border through a trackless stretch between Piedras Negras and Laredo.

It also has a recent history of ping-ponging between parties, having switched hands in each of the last three elections.

Gallego, a 53-year-old attorney, was a 22-year veteran of the Texas House of Representatives when he made a successful run for Congress in 2012.

On Tuesday, as the Texas House debated its budget, Gallego was on the floor, chatting with old colleagues from both parties. He said he missed the relative bipartisanship of his old job.

"In terms of the camaraderie and those kinds of things, Congress was much harder than the Legislature," Gallego said.

He faulted Hurd, a 37-year-old former CIA agent, for not helping matters.

Gallego said that it was out of partisan considerations that Hurd supported the "Secure Our Borders" Act. The bill would add almost 200 miles of new roads as well as surveillance balloons, drones and towers to Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote national parks in the Lower 48 states.

"I grew up climbing every rock in that park," Gallego said, adding that Hurd's support for the bill shows a lack of appreciation for what makes his West Texas district unique. The bill Hurd supports "would really destroy what many of us fought to preserve."

Hurd said he did support the bill and was a co-author.

"He (Gallego) obviously hasn't read the bill," Hurd said. "It covers the entire Big Bend section, not just the park and the bill goes into great detail to make sure we protect the beauty of the park."

Gallego also criticized Hurd for resigning his seat on the House Small Business Committee. He said that committees are where the real work of Congress gets done.

"It's exceedingly rare for members to abandon committee assignments," Gallego said, noting that in the eastern part of the district, Toyota is the only big business and in the Lower Valley, all businesses are small. "That's all that's down there — businesses like mom-and-pop restaurants like my family had."

Jones agreed that it's rare for House members to resign committee assignments. But he said Hurd's approach is more forthright than some other members, who sometimes lose interest and designate staff members to handle minimal committee responsibilities.

As the only one of the 36 Texas House races that is expected to be competitive, Jones said that the Hurd-Gallego rematch will garner the most interest.

Because presidential candidates will top the ballot in 2016, more voters will participate, Jones said. And an analysis by the Rice University political scientist showed that most voters who stayed home last year would have voted for Gallego, who has consistently run ahead of national and statewide Democrats in West Texas.

But while the political climate is expected to favor Gallego, he faces a smart, up-and-coming incumbent in Hurd, Jones said.

Speaker John Boehner and other Republican House leaders view Hurd as a rising star, "so he has significantly more influence than your run-of-the-mill freshman," Jones said.