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The Brief: With two congressmen stepping down, all eyes are on their seats in 2018

The Texas political scene again this week was turned upside down after two GOP congressmen announced they're not coming back in 2018.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2017.

*Correction appended

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What you need to know

Two Texas Republicans in Congress announced this week they are exiting the stage at the end of their terms, shaking up the state's political scene ahead of the 2018 elections. With primary season around the corner, who in the state already has an eye on those open slots? Here's what you need to know: 

• U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio is calling it quits after his 16th term in Congress. Smith, current chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee, wrote Thursday that "this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege" of representing Texas' 21st Congressional District — a chunk of land that runs through the cities of Austin and San Antonio. Speculation immediately started over who could run for the open seat in 2018 — state Reps. Jason Isaac and Lyle Larson and state Sen. Donna Campbell emerged as possible contenders. Jenifer Sarver, a GOP communications consultant in Austin, confirmed to The Texas Tribune that she's "taking a serious look" at running. Despite the district's solid red leaning, it's worth keeping an eye on the Democratic side of the race; veteran Joseph Kopser outraised Smith in both the second and third fundraising quarters, landing well ahead of other Democrats vying for the seat. 

• And U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Dallas is leaving after eight terms. Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, announced Tuesday he planned to step down from his post in Texas' 5th Congressional District. "I never intended to make it a lifetime commitment," he said, "and I have already stayed far longer than I had originally planned." Former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida and Beth Van Duyne, a current Trump administration official and former Irving mayor, are two names already being floated as potential candidates for the seat. In the #txlege realm, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is "exploring" a possible run and is expected to make a decision "very soon," per the Tribune's Patrick Svitek. 

• The Trump effect? President Donald Trump's administration has caused rifts within the GOP and other departures from Congress, but Smith said Thursday that the tense political scene didn't have an "impact on my decision whatsoever" to retire. Plus, both Hensarling and Smith are term-limited chairmen who must soon hand over their powerful gavels — a factor that probably played a role in their decisions to exit.  

Other stories we're watching today:

• Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith is talking with GOP state lawmakers Sen. Charles Perry and Reps. Dustin Burrows and John Frullo in Lubbock today. You can watch a livestream here at noon

Tribune today

• From Ross Ramsey: The most conservative and liberal members of the Texas House may not matter much when it comes to electing a new speaker — if the shot is called on partisan grounds.  

• Ruth Simmons came out of retirement this summer to serve as interim president at Prairie View A&M University. Here's how the university lured her to stay in the role permanently. 

• It's going to be a while before Texas receives billions in federal dollars for long-term Hurricane Harvey relief. But the tension is already there over how much money should go where. 

• Harris County's top prosecutor wants Texas to use current medical standards when deciding if a death row inmate is intellectually disabled and ineligible for execution. 

• U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry thinks increasing fossil fuel use can prevent sexual assault because the "lights are on."

• All eyes are on U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, a Republican from The Woodlands who is spearheading the GOP's tax reform plan in Congress. 

• Today's the second day of a trial over Texas' ban on an abortion procedure. Here's what went down on day one

Pencil us in

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith is interviewing state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, at The Austin Club on Nov. 7.  

What we're reading

• The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ($) requested communication records to the Fort Worth City Council about joining the "sanctuary cities" lawsuit. Most who emailed and called wanted the city to join. 

• Waco's VA clinic has a new brain center that's helping veterans cope with mental health issues. (Waco Tribune-Herald)

• The Austin City Council is trying to keep its search for a new city manager secret, which may be illegal. (KUT) 

• There are now more than 80 Harvey-related lawsuits. (The Houston Chronicle $)

• Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has a primary challenger in 2018. (The Austin American-Statesman $)

• President Trump doesn't want GOP senators to tie a DACA fix to the year-end spending bill. (The Washington Post $)

Quote to note

"I want these students to know that they are fit to be in any setting, fit to be with any people they encounter, fit to learn from a lot of different settings."

— Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, on goals she has with her new role and students on campus

Feedback? Questions? Email us at As always, thanks for choosing The Brief — if you liked what you read today, become a member or make a donation here

Disclosure: Prairie View A&M University and Jenifer Sarver have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Correction: An earlier version of The Brief misspelled Jenifer Sarver's name.

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