Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX) knew his district. More importantly for Republicans, he knew how to win in his district.
Hurd was first elected to the Texas 23rd in 2014, and won three consecutive elections after taking office the only way he knew how, said Houston Chronicle politics reporter Jeremy Wallace–through “bipartisanship.”
“He wrote 13 bills in the last Congress, and ten of those were sponsored by Democrats,” Wallace said. “His bipartisanship that he’s had to apply in that tight of a district has been really noticeable.”
The numbers tell it all. Hurd won his district, which stretches from just outside San Antonio, south the U.S.-Mexico border and west to just outside of El Paso, by just 0.5 percent in 2018.
It’s the only district along the border from Texas to California represented by a Republican.
James Barragán, politics reporter for the Dallas Morning News, said Hurd’s willingness to call out the president, when other Republicans would not, helped him win in a “nearly 70 percent Hispanic district” come election time.
“He made a name for himself as a type of dissenting voice from President Trump, but one that still represented conservative values,” Barragán said. Which is why “(his) departure is a big loss for the Republican party.”
Hurd announced Thursday he would not seek re-election in 2020. Making him the third Texas Republican in a week to retire from Congress. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-TX, who announced his retirement Wednesday.
Wallace said their decisions come as no surprise.
“It’s no fun to be in the minority in the United States Congress, especially when you’ve been in the majority,” Wallace said. “You come home and raise tons of money to try and win reelection. Then the work it’s going to take to get another two years …it’s a flashing red beacon of ‘do you really want to do this?'”
Former Reps. John Culberson (R-TX) and Pete Sessions (R-TX) put in that work to no avail in the 2018 election.
“They were two Republicans in a Democratic year, and they were trying to hold on. They spent tons of money and it was for naught,” Wallace said.
Culberson lost to Democrat Lizzie Pannill-Fletcher by 5 percent in 2018, and Sessions lost to Democrat Colin Allred by 6.5 percent.
Barragán said close defeats like that are reasons why this latest wave of Republican retirees are choosing to “go out on their own terms.”
“Anybody who had a close race in 2018 has to look at 2020 and say ‘do I want to go through what they went through?’,” Wallace said. “This is all-encompassing, 24-hours a day, for at best a 50-50 shot of coming back.”
Republicans also lost an influential leader at the state level. Powerful State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) announced he’s stepping down at the end of September.
Zerwas is a physician, and he plans to take a job as executive vice chancellor for health affairs in the University of Texas System.
Zerwas, chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee which writes the state’s budget, has served in the House since 2007 and was named the chamber’s chief budget writer in 2017.
Wallace said losing someone of Zerwas’ stature in the legislature, someone who once mulled a run for the speakership, is a “big blow” going into an election year.
“He was a trusted, high-level Republican within Speaker Bonnen’s crew,” Wallace said. “The district he’s leaving is a total battleground and it’s one of the most diverse district you’ll find.”
Zerwas’ district, Fort Bend County, is the same district represented by Republican Congressman Pete Olson who announced his retirement last week.