(TEXAS TRIBUNE) WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, is retiring from Congress, two sources close to the congressman told The Texas Tribune on Thursday.
"For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else," he wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune. "... With over a year remaining in my term, there is still much to do. There is legislation to enact, dozens of hearings to hold and hundreds of votes to cast."
Smith was elected to Congress in 1987 and represents a district that spans Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. He is the current chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Like U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the House Financial Services chairman who announced his retirement on Tuesday, Smith faced a term-limit in that role.
The news was not entirely surprising. Smith's name has repeatedly surfaced as a member of Congress with the potential to retire.
But there was one argument for why he should stay. Smith is a deft legislator and had positioned himself to possibly succeed another Texan, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, as chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee.
Smith has served as a committee chairman twice: on the Science, Space & Technology Committee and on the Judiciary Committee in the early 2010s.
One of the most senior members of the delegation, Smith has had a low-key style of leadership. For example, in 2014, U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, a Rockwall Republican, faced a fierce primary threat from now-U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe and had very little money to fend off the challenge. Smith realized before most that Hall was in trouble and rounded up campaign donations from the other Republicans in the Texas delegation.
Smith earned many detractors for his skepticism of manmade climate change. Even so, liberal Democrats privately described him as a pragmatic chairman and colleague who would listen to their arguments.
Smith, a San Antonio native, received his undergraduate degree from Yale and attended law school at Southern Methodist University.
Speculation immediately began among Texas GOP insiders about who could succeed Smith in his seat. Names included state Reps. Jason Isaac and Lyle Larson, state Sen. Donna Cambpell and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair. Austin-based communications consultant Jenifer Sarver, a Republican, confirmed that she's "taking a serious look" at running for the seat.
The question on many insider's minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus would consider a run, but sources close to him said Thursday he is not interested.
Smith's 21st Congressional District runs from South Austin along the west side of I-35 into San Antonio and extends westward into the Hill Country.
The fact that it includes Alamo Heights, a wealthy area of San Antonio, has caught some Republicans' eyes. There is an expectation at this early moment that a self-funder might be postured to enter the race.
News began to circulate among members voting on Thursday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, served on the same committees as Smith and shares the same alma mater, Yate University. She said she disagreed with him on many issues, including immigration, but they always kept up a friendly rapport.
"I call him a Texas gentleman, and he is," she said.
Claire Allbright contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Jennifer Sarver has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.
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