Editor's note: This story has been updated.
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, has decided not to run for re-election in 2016, bringing to a close more than two decades in public service and setting off a potentially crowded GOP primary to replace him.
"After 23 years, I have to honestly say I need to take a step back, spend more time with my family and friends and recharge my batteries," Eltife told his hometown newspaper, the Tyler Morning Telegraph, in an interview published Sunday morning.
Eltife told The Texas Tribune on Sunday that he does not plan to get involved in the primary. He said he announced his decision now to give potential replacements "plenty of time" to ready their campaigns.
Under the dome, Eltife gained a reputation as a lawmaker with a contrarian streak on issues of state spending and taxation. He told the newspaper he hopes his successor continues to be an "independent voice."
Several Republicans have already been mentioned as potential candidates for Eltife's seat.
State Rep. David Simpson of Longview will announce later this month that he is launching a bid for the job.
"Advancing liberty and promoting prosperity in Texas will take conservative leaders who are ready to tell the truth," Simpson said in a Sunday statement. "We are excited to announce our campaign for Senate District 1 and intend to officially launch our efforts on June 22.”
Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, who was waiting to see whether Eltife would run for re-election, will announce his bid for the seat on Monday, according to his spokesman, Jordan Berry.
Thomas Ratliff, the outgoing vice chairman of the State Board of Education, has said he would not rule out a run for the seat if Eltife gave it up. And Dennis Golden, a Carthage optometrist, has said he intends to run.
Before coming to Austin, Eltife served on the Tyler City Council and as its mayor. He was elected to the Senate in 2004, replacing former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. He is currently the chairman of the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee and also has a place on the budget-writing Finance Committee.
Eltife has often been a swing vote in a Texas Senate dominated by Republicans but governed by rules that give political minorities more power than their numbers would suggest. It takes consent from 60 percent of the state’s 31 senators to bring most proposals up for debate; issues that can only attract small majorities often languish as a result. And Eltife has found himself in the position of holding such proposals hostage more than once.
He was a rare Republican vote against repeal of the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrants who graduate from Texas high schools and who have lived here for more than three years to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities. That repeal never made it to the full Senate. He opposed so-called sanctuary cities legislation that would require local police to enforce federal immigration laws. And he was a no vote on one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s pet bills, which would have allowed businesses to direct their taxes to scholarship funds for private school students.
Early in the legislative session that ended June 1, Eltife tried to tap the brakes on what he called “a bidding war” between the House and Senate over tax cuts, insisting that lawmakers should be using surplus funds for deferred maintenance, debt reduction and the like. The tax cuts went through, but so did some of what he had pushed for. By the end of the session, he declared himself satisfied with that partial victory.