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.
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 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 Campbell and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.
The question on many insiders' minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus will 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.
Claire Allbright contributed to this report.