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Rep. Green retires, potentially shaking up Hispanic district

AUSTIN, Texas — Long-serving Democratic Rep. Gene Green — a key reason Houston is now America's largest Hispanic city without a Hispanic member of Congress — announced Monday that he won't seek re-election, the sixth Texas congressman to give up his seat this year.

The 70-year-old said in a statement Monday that he's "confident that I still have the support of my constituents and would be successful if I ran for another term" but added that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Green's district snakes through mostly working-class areas of north and east Houston and will remain safely Democratic. That opens the door for Latinos in city politics or the Texas Legislature to jump into the party's primary in March to replace him. Exactly who will do so isn't immediately clear since the filing deadline is still about a month away.

First elected to Congress in 1992, Green speaks minimal Spanish and admits to answering questions about being "the Anglo in the Hispanic district" for decades. He's never lost in the district, originally drawn to empower Hispanic voters and now nearly 80 per cent Latino.

Green remained popular by winning over top Hispanic activists and obsessing about ways to keep constituents happy, such as organizing job fairs, returning home every weekend and personally returning phone calls.

Fully one-sixth of the 36-member Texas delegation in the U.S. House has now announced plans to leave office. Another Democrat, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, is giving up his El Paso seat to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. They join four Republicans.

Sam Johnson, an 87-year-old member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, announced in January he was retiring next year. Jeb Hensarling, 60, who chairs the influential House Financial Services Committee; Lamar Smith, 69, who heads the House Science, Space and Technology Committee; and 69-year-old Ted Poe all said recently they weren't seeking re-election either.

The retirements aren't thought to be part of a larger Texas political shakeup. Next year's election now figures to be seismic for the state, though, since moderate Texas House Speaker Joe Straus shocked the Texas Capitol last month by announcing he too was stepping down.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Green "will be missed on both sides of the aisle."

"Gene has played an important role in defending the Affordable Care Act, fighting every day for expanded access to affordable insurance coverage for all who need it," Hoyer said in a statement. "He has also been a staunch ally of Israel in Congress, helping to ensure the strong, bipartisan support essential for the security of the Middle East's only representative democracy."

Houston is America's fourth largest city, home to 2.3 million people, around 44 per cent of whom are Latino. Nationally, Hispanics represent 17 per cent of the population but only hold 7 per cent of U.S. House seats. In Texas alone, they make up the majority of registered voters in nine congressional districts, but only four are represented by Hispanics.

"I think that it is time for me to be more involved in the lives of our children and grandchildren," Green said Monday, saying he would serve out the remainder of his term through next year. "I have had to miss so many of their activities and after 26 years in Congress it is time to devote more time to my most important job of being a husband, father and grandfather."

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