U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) will not seek re-election to Congress. Credit: C-SPAN

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) is retiring from Congress, two sources close to the congressman told The Texas Tribune on Thursday. Smith confirmed the decision in a conference call later in the day.

“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.

“Quite frankly, there’s nothing else I would rather be doing,” Smith said of his time in Congress during a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. But he attributed part of the decision to the chairman term-limit issue, saying he felt “relieved.”

When asked if the toxic political environment contributed to his decision, he was emphatic.

“No, it had no impact on my decision whatsoever,” he said.

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, and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

State Sen. Donna Campbell‘s name was also put in play. A spokesman for Campbell (R-New Braunfels) said she “will carefully and prayerfully consider what is best for her and the district.”

The question on many insider’s minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus, but sources close to him said Thursday he is not interested in running.

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.

Abby Livingston, The Texas Tribune

Abby Livingston joined the Tribune in 2014 as the publication's first Washington Bureau Chief. Previously, she covered political campaigns, House leadership and Congress for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill...