U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, a longtime fixture in the Texas delegation, announced Wednesday afternoon he is retiring at the end of his term.
"It has been absolutely the worst-kept secret in America today, but I am going to announce that I am not gonna run for reelection in 2020," Conaway said at a news conference in Midland, standing beside his wife and fighting back tears as he tried to get the words out. "Representing the folks in District 11 has been an honor and privilege that I cannot adequately describe."
His retirement is a major blow to the state's clout within the Republican conference. Conaway is a well-regarded figure on Capitol Hill and has served as chairman of the House Ethics and Agriculture committees. He is the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee. His decision is somewhat of a surprise to some delegation insiders; Conaway was on track to take GOP leadership of the House Intelligence Committee in the coming years.
Elaborating on his decision in Midland, Conaway noted he was term limited from continuing his leadership post on the Agriculture Committee and that immediate opportunities to take leadership positions elsewhere were limited.
"So this is a perfect time as I transition," Conaway said. "One of the things I've told folks all along — when I'm no longer in a leadership position, I'm coming home."
At the news conference, Conaway also lamented how "intense" partisanship has become in Washington and acknowledged that being in the minority — Republicans lost the House in November — is a "frustrating experience." Asked when he decided this would be his last term, Conaway replied, "Last year. I've been sitting on it for a long, long time."
Conaway reached the pinnacle of his career last year when he moved the massive farm bill spending package through Congress. He also led the House investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And as a member and certified public accountant, he uncovered a massive fraud scandal at the House campaign arm during the 2008 cycle.
He has served in Congress since 2005. His West Texas district, which includes Midland and San Angelo, is heavily Republican and is all but certain to stay in the Republican column next year. He won reelection against Democrat Jennie Lou Leeder by more than 60 percentage points in 2018.
Conaway said he was announcing his retirement now to ensure there was "plenty of time" for potential successors to campaign given Texas' early primary, March 3. "I expect a spirited primary process," Conaway added.
This is the second official retirement in the delegation this cycle, and more are expected to come before the December filing deadline.
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced his retirement last week. U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, may end up vacating his East Texas seat with his recent nomination to be U.S. director of National Intelligence.