AUSTIN (KXAN) — Congressman Lamar Smith’s retirement could shift the landscape of the 2018 primary elections.
Smith, R-San Antonio, announced plans to retire at the end of his term Thursday. Smith, who was first elected in 1987, cited a desire to pass the torch on to the next generation and spend more time with his grandchildren as reasons for his retirement.
Smith’s retirement comes just days before the start of the filing period for the March primary elections. He had no challengers in the Republican primary, and was expected to win re-election in November.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, contends Smith’s retirement could bring a boost to Democrats trying to win the seat. District 21 stretches from Austin south to San Antonio, where Smith calls home.
“Unlike a lot of places in the state, there was already kind of a lot of Democratic action going on [there] with three candidates,” said Henson. “Anytime that you can run in a race where there’s not an incumbent in a Republican district, you’re probably going to find a little more interest than you would otherwise.”
But Jordan Berry, a political consultant who worked with Congressman Smith, argues the district will stay with the GOP. “I think it’s a safe Republican seat and that the contest will be finished in the Republican primary,” said Berry.
Henson theorizes that whoever wins the seat will face tough challenges to get things done as Congress continues to become more combative and divisive along party lines.
“It’s a job that’s gotten harder and not quite so glorious over the last decade or so. If you look at congressional approval ratings, nationwide and in Texas, they’re pretty terrible,” says Henson. “I think Congress has had a harder time getting stuff done no matter what party is in charge. It’s not breaking rocks in the hot sun but you work hard and in recent years you’ve worked hard for minimal results.”