Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout
State Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat who has served in the Texas House for over two decades, is retiring from the lower chamber at the end of September.
“I want to thank my constituents and the people of Texas for the high honor and privilege of representing them in the Texas Legislature these last 25 years,” Farrar said in a statement Friday. “My time in public service has provided me the opportunity to serve my state and community in ways for which I will forever be grateful.”
Farrar, an attorney first elected to the lower chamber in 1994, represents House District 148, which covers parts of northern and western Houston. The district has historically been a safe seat for Democrats.
In her statement, Farrar called her decision to retire a "very difficult and emotional decision" — and said her constituents "will always be deep in my heart."
An early departure, Farrar said, would allow for her successor to take office and "hit the ground running" ahead of the 2021 legislative session. She called on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for her seat on Nov. 5, the same day as Houston municipal elections, "to afford the most robust voter turnout at the least taxpayer expense."
"I am encouraged in my decision to retire by enthusiasm and intelligence of emerging progressive leaders who will ensure that the momentum of positive change will continue forward," she said. "While I will be stepping back from public office, be assured that I will continue being involved when the cause is good and just."
Farrar served as vice chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence during this year's legislative session. She also chaired the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. During the legislative session in 2011, Farrar served as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Among Democrats, Farrar has been seen as a fierce advocate for women's health. In 2007, Farrar filed a bill that would have created a mandate to vaccinate adolescent girls against human papilloma virus. Lawmakers rejected it. Around the same time, Australia began to promote the vaccine.
"Today, Australia is expected soon to eliminate cervical cancer in that country," Farrar said. "Hopefully, Texas will follow this example to act to save lives given that our state lost 406 women unnecessarily due to cervical cancer in 2015, not to mention the countless women who have had to undergo surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells from the cervix."
During the 2017 legislative session, Farrar gained widespread attention after authoring a bill that would have penalized men $100 for masturbating — a satirical response, she said, to recently passed state laws that subjected women in Texas to certain "unnecessary" and "invasive" procedures.
After Friday's announcement, state Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat and her successor as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement that Farrar "always spoke up, always spoke out, and always fought for what was right, no matter the odds."
Turner also pointed to Farrar's leadership as caucus chair after the 2010 elections — a devastating year for Democrats' numbers in the lower chamber.
"She took a tough job at the toughest time and used every ounce of her will to speak up for millions of Texans that Republican officials were leaving behind," Turner said.