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U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway Announces Retirement At The End of His Term In 2020

By Mitch Borden

In a Midland office building, surrounded by greenery and statues of a giraffe and an elephant, U.S. Rep. Conaway, R-Midland, told a crowd of constituents, staffers and reporters that he was stepping away from politics—joining a number of GOP lawmakers that have announced they won't be seeking reelection next year.

“This chapter in our lives has been more fulfilling that I could ever imagine," said Conaway, who was joined by his wife Suzanne. "But all things come to an end and my eighth term in congress will be my endpoint. "

Conaway said he's thought about the decision over the last year. Part of his reason to retire is he’s term-limited from continuing his leadership role on the Agriculture Committee and didn’t see other leadership opportunities in the near future, so he opted to step away from politics.

“One of the things I've told folks all along — when I'm no longer in a leadership position, I'm coming home," said Conaway.

The Republican lawmaker grew up in Odessa, where he was part of Friday night lights before "Friday Night Lights" — the famed book, movie and television series about football in the Permian Basin. Conaway was on the 1965 state championship team at Permian High School. He later went on to earn a degree from the University of Texas A&M in accounting and after that served in the military. He later moved to Midland, where he would become the CFO of an oil and gas company started by future President George W. Bush.

But, as Conaway announced his retirement, it was clear from the emotion in his voice that joining the U.S. House of Representatives was one of the most important moments in his life.

“This institution is enshrined in our Constitution, said Conaway Wednesday afternoon. "There is no more worthy public service spot than serving in the people’s house.”

Conaway started his career on Capitol Hill in 2005 after losing a prior bid in 2003. He quickly became a popular candidate among West Texas voters in District 11, which includes Midland, Odessa, and San Angelo. During his time, he rose through the ranks of the GOP and eventually held a senior position on the House Intelligence Committee and chaired the House Agriculture Committee, where he helped narrowly pass the 2018 Farm Bill. Conaway also led the House’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. And in 2008 he uncovered an embezzlement plot in the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

“He is one of the workhorse, rather than show horse members," said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

So why retire now? For one, Jillson says Conaway is a quiet and thoughtful politician, which could make it hard for him to have to defend or explain controversial statements made by President Trump, which has become routine for senior GOP officials.

“While I don’t think Conaway will say that, it’s got to be one of the things driving him home," said Jillson.

Conaway's retirement, according to Jillson, could also be a sign that the lawmaker didn’t see a future in the House — especially if Democrats keep control of the House in 2020.  

“If you see your party remaining in the minority you just might say, 'To hell with it. I’m 71. I want to spend some time with my family. I’ve got grandkids, they’re growing up.'”

In the last two weeks, four other Republican lawmakers announced they were choosing to retire rather than run for reelection. But Conaway says he’s not part of a trend. He’s been thinking about retirement over the last year and now he says he’s leaving the way he wants to.

“There are 435 members of congress and this is just one story," said Conaway.

The eight-term Republican lawmaker will serve out the remainder of his two-year term, which ends in 2020. He says he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife Suzanne, his four kids, and seven grandchildren.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.