Mac Thornberry is the latest Texas Republican to announce his retirement from Congress. So far, 20 members of the House aren’t seek reelection, six of whom are from Texas. But Thornberry’s retirement is different than the rest, because his seat is not at risk of flipping to Democrats in 2020, But his decision was still a surprise to some in the district.
Thornberry has represented Texas’ 13th Congressional District since 1995. The district spans a large swath of the Panhandle. Deanna Watson, editor-in-chief of the Wichita Falls Times-Record-News, says Thornberry is the last of the lawmakers who entered Congress during former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” era when he established goals for Republicans who were seeking to become the majority party in the U.S. House in the 1990s.
“I think there were 73 or so that came in in 1994, and yesterday’s announcement made him the last continuous-serving one since that era – 13 terms,” Watson says.
She says Thornberry supported his district’s military bases, which are an important part of the area’s economy. He also served as chair of the House Armed Services Committee for four years.
Some are shocked by his retirement, she says.
“There are generations around here that don’t know another congressman in our district,” Watson says. “You wonder what’s coming next.”
Only one person so far, Elaine Hayes from Amarillo, has announced she’s considering running for his seat, mainly because most didn’t expect him to retire.
Watson says another Republican is likely to take Thornberry’s place because the region is reliably conservative. But she says it’s unclear whether that person would follow Thornberry’s lead when it comes to their style of politics.
“You can’t really find a Mac Thornberry sound bite,” Watson says. “He wasn’t one that would rush to the rotunda to be on a pundit show. He just was steady, did his job, wasn’t out there trying to get on the airwaves.”
Thornberry isn’t leaving because he can’t win in 2020, Watson says. He won by a large margin in 2018.
“I don’t believe he’s part of the ‘Texodus.’ Maybe it’s just a personal decision on his own, and not something that he’s looking at the landscape ahead,” she says.
Written by Caroline Covington.