WASHINGTON – In recent weeks, several Republicans in the U.S. House announced they would not return to Congress for another term. There’s a sense in the air that more retirements are coming, which leads to the question: Are any more Texans thinking about hanging it up?
Two out of the 38 Texans in Congress made clear months ago they weren't seeking re-election: U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Richardson, announced his retirement earlier this year, and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the El Paso Democrat is challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. And another of those Texans, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, won't face re-election again until 2020.
The Tribune asked the remaining Texans in Congress this week if they plan to run for re-election. People close to nearly every member indicated to the Tribune that, yes, they have either officially launched their re-election campaigns or intend to when state filing begins in November.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, is the one member whose associates declined to send a clear signal on her future. But there is no speculation around Capitol Hill that a Jackson Lee retirement is imminent, and she remains one of the most engaged members of the delegation.
This collective intent among the Texan delegation to run for office again was not the case, delegation sources say, over the summer as Republican incumbents anxiously watched redistricting litigation and wondered if judges might order their districts radically changed before next year's election. At that point, a handful of members considered not running again.
But the GOP essentially had a best-case scenario outcome in that litigation. Rather than fears of an "Armageddon map” with as many as half-a-dozen districts drastically redrawn, a lower court only took issue with two districts. The U.S. Supreme Court then put efforts to redraw the map on hold, potentially leaving the current map in place through next year's elections.
Signs of a wave?
Since Labor Day, three House Republicans from other states have announced plans to retire from seats that could become competitive in a general election, leading many to wonder if this is the first indicator of a Democratic wave in 2018.
Even so, Liesl Hickey, a consultant who ran the House Republican campaign in 2014, downplayed the political implications of the latest string of retirements and pointed to Texas as a specific point of GOP stability.
"The current Republican retirements are not unusual," she said. "It would be stretch to read more into them than what they are – typical occurrences in an election cycle. And the lack of Texas retirements helps keep the Republican conference in a strong position heading into next year."
Smith has not officially announced his plans, but a source close to him anticipates another re-election campaign.
As for Hensarling? "He's running and if that changes, he will make an announcement," a spokesperson said.
Both men are raising money for re-election and already have piles of money on hand to unleash on challengers. But the speculation stems from the fact that both are committee chairmen who will have to give up their current gavels at the end of 2018 due to term-limits.
Yet there are potentially good reasons for each congressman to stay. Smith could take over as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. And Hensarling is in the unique position of having two longtime friends in positions of extraordinary power: Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Retirements tend to surface during or right after an extended recess, like the August work period and during the Christmas holidays.
But there is little time left for the Texans to contemplate, though. The state's unusually early filing deadline of December 11 means incumbents must decide soon whether they want to give this another go-round.