AUSTIN (Nexstar) — State Representative Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, announced Thursday he will officially be retiring after serving for three decades, citing health issues and a polarizing year of session.
“I’ve enjoyed all 30 years. But it’s very difficult in the environment that we’re in to get much fulfillment out of serving,” Coleman said Thursday.
He joins a growing list of lawmakers deciding not to seek re-election, including Austin Democrat Rep. Celia Israel, who will instead run for mayor of Austin.
She also points to the polarization lawmakers faced this year, after the passage of a controversial elections bill, restrictive abortion law and a ban on critical race theory in classrooms.
“It’s no secret that this session has been the most polarizing, difficult sessions that anybody can remember,” Israel said Thursday. “I decided to look at serving the city of Austin, where I can find collaborative opportunities to do things that will help. We all want to help.”
But Republicans are stepping down, too, including State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, the chairman of the House GOP Caucus, pointing to more than just policy concerns.
“Technically, we have a citizen legislature that’s only supposed to meet for 140 days, every other year, whereas this year, they were in session for almost 10 months,” Josh Blank with the Texas Politics Project said.
“Their businesses and their families missed them. And in some cases, it cost them a lot of money, because they will lose money in their private business,” Scott Braddock with Quorum Report said.
“People don’t always realize as a part-time legislature, I’m a realtor, we have to find ways to make money, because we’re paid $600 a month. And we have a full-time staff is here to help every day. But it is a strain on the family. And this was a most extraordinary year where we had redistricting, we had pandemic, we had a winter storm. And we had a lot of social issues that were tearing us apart,” Israel said.
Blank said the growing number of lawmakers not seeking re-election is higher than what the state would typically see after a single regular session.
“It seems that it is on an uptick,” Blank said.
“We should hit, I think my educated guess is, about 30 members of the Texas House and maybe one more Texas senator as well,” Braddock said.
Both Braddock and Blank said the larger number of departures, especially those with years of institutional knowledge, could lead to some instability in the next session, beginning January 2023.
“Chairman Garnet Coleman, one of the best minds when it comes to local government issues. Dan Huberty, who was a former public education chairman, one of the best minds on public education. Senator Jane Nelson, a master of the Texas budget,” Braddock pointed out.
“When you lose that kind of institutional memory, and we lose that kind of experience, it definitely makes it harder to cram as much into the 140 day legislative session in a state as big as Texas,” Blank said.
Israel, however, is more optimistic.
“It’s an opportunity for new people to come in, not only learn the job but learn the district,” Israel said.