House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith announced his retirement Thursday.
“For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else. At the end of this Congress, I will have completed my six-year term as Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. I have one new grandchild and a second arriving soon!! And I hope to find other ways to stay involved in politics,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.
Smith is the former chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
Smith’s departure could spark a GOP primary in the district that sits north of San Antonio and encompasses part of the Austin suburbs. Inside Elections rates the district Solid Republican. President Donald Trump won the 21st District by 10 points in 2016, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.
One GOP source noted speculation has centered around Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, who recently announced he would retire from the state legislature. The source noted Straus resides in the 21st District.
State Sen. Donna Campbell was also listed as a potential candidate, since her Senate district overlaps with the 21st District. Campbell unsuccessfully ran against Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the neighboring 25th District in 2010.
Smith already had a number Democratic challengers, including Iraq War veteran and entrepreneur Joseph Kopser. Kopser took issue with Smith’s views on climate change, and said he could be victorious in a district that has an emerging technology sector. Kopser had out-raised Smith in the last two fundraising quarters.
Kopser said in a statement Thursday, “We have accomplished our campaign’s first goal to #RetireLamarSmith: Lamar Smith has announced his official retirement.”
"It gives us even more confidence now, puts a lot more wind behind our back,” Kopser said in a phone interview Thursday evening.
Kopser said his campaign has been working to bring together a coalition of voters that include people who haven’t voted in the past, those who are active in local protests and activist groups, and voters who are new to the region thanks to the burgeoning technology sector.
Kopser summed up the coalition as "people who understand that the problems we have today that we need to face don’t fit nicely into partisan boxes." Kopser did not think Smith’s retirement would drastically change his message or strategy.
Both Kopser and his campaign manager Ian Rivera said invoked former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in their statements following Smith’s retirement.
“We’ll now work even harder,” Rivera said. “We’ll probably face whichever Bannon-sanctioned candidate the GOP nominates — and that person will be as bad or worse for everyday Texans than Congressman Smith.”
Kopser explained in the phone interview that he invoked Bannon because a Republican primary would likely produce far-right candidates.
"I’m very concerned about what he is doing inside of our electorate, inside of our politics,” Kopser said. "The last thing that I want for our district is to have somebody come in and basically be appealing to the dark side of politics that he has been so much a champion of.”
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers, said Thursday that the seat would likely remain in Republican hands.
“The people of Texas are losing a dedicated public servant and skilled legislator, but we are confident they will select another conservative Republican like Chairman Smith who shares their values,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement.
Democrats responded to Smith’s announcement by saying it revealed broader problems within the GOP.
“From Texas to Pennsylvania and Washington, House Republicans are dropping like flies because it’s nothing short of miserable to be part of Speaker [Paul D.] Ryan’s establishment Congress,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said.