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Government/Politics

Progressives hope Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr.’s retirement signals new era

Texas Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. sits at his desk in the Senate chamber.. The Texas Senate met for the start of a new special
Aaron E. Martinez / American-Sta/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co
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American-Sta/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co
Texas Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. sits at his desk in the Senate chamber.

After more than 30 years in office, Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) will not seek reelection.

Lucio announced his retirement at a press conference in Harlingen, Texas Thursday morning.

“I’m retiring, for good reason,” Lucio said to a crowd of Rio Grande Valley elected officials and press. “Family, and to do some of the things I’ve been wanting to do, like my own personal ministry, to help the less fortunate in our community.”

State House Rep. Eddie Lucio III, Lucio’s son, also announced he would not seek reelection, after holding his seat since 2007, earlier this year.

The elder Lucio, who’s held the District 27 seat since 1991, voted against his Democratic colleagues several times in recent legislative sessions. Most recently, Lucio was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of banning trans students from participating in school athletics.

Lucio was a co-sponsor of Texas Senate Bill 8, which banned abortions after six-weeks of pregnancy. The bill was one of several instances where Lucio has voted against abortion access, part of a voting record that has been criticized by Texas progressive groups, some of his constituents and colleagues.

Lucio’s dealings with private prisons has drawn scrutiny, too, admitting to receiving bonuses when prison companies he consulted for built immigration detention facilities.

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Dr. Mònica Clua, a political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said Lucio’s support of liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities and SpaceX’s Boca Chica site are notable examples of his straying from the party line and his constituents.

“Those have been projects that have brought a lot of risk to the community and very few guaranteed gains,” she said.

Lucio’s record of voting with Republicans has earned him praise from top Texas GOP officials, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

Avow, a nonprofit advocacy group for abortion rights, celebrated Lucio’s retirement.

“Lucio has been the extremist right’s trusted anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ vote for over 30 years, hurting his own constituents in the process,” Avow Political Director Caroline Duble said in a press release. “The Rio Grande Valley is a vibrant and resilient community that deserves a progressive leader who is not willing to compromise on Texans’ rights or values.”

Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a San Benito-based attorney and activist who ran against Lucio in 2020, is also welcoming his exit.

“I wish he would’ve (announced his retirement) two years ago, because the damage that he’s done these past two years alone for our district has been monumental,” she said. “I think that if we can get somebody (elected in his place) that’ll undo just this recent damage, then we’ve got a bright future ahead of us.”

Despite the criticism, Lucio remained in the District 27 seat each election cycle for three decades, with Stapleton-Barrera being his strongest challenger in recent years. During the 2020 election, Lucio won over Stapleton-Barrera in the Democratic primary by just 2,000 votes. Later that year, Lucio beat his Republican challenger, Vanessa Tijerina, by over 60,000 votes.

Stapleton-Barrera said she would support any candidate running for District 27 campaigning on establishing term limits for senators and fighting corruption within the legislature. Otherwise, she would step in for another office run.

“If it’s only candidates that are connected to big money that are connected to the establishment, then hell yes, I will jump in. I don’t think that’s what our district needs is another Lucio.”

Clua said the possibility of another Lucio in Texas politics may be coming to an end.

“We could call it the end of an era in a sense,” Clua said of Lucio’s retirement. “It’s fascinating to see that not just that generation of politicians but a particular way of doing politics is possibly retiring.”

Clua said Lucio is part of a generation of right-leaning Texas Democrats of years past, particularly those in the Rio Grande Valley, with his exit opening an opportunity for progressive candidates to run for his seat. While Lucio’s retirement might provide hope for progressive movements in the Rio Grande Valley, Clua makes clear that it does not mean the system will change drastically.

“Nowhere a single person can change things that have stayed in the same way for generations,” she said. “However, that doesn’t mean a single person shouldn’t try.”

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