The Texas Senate’s Most Conservative Democrat Is Retiring

“I want somebody that has compassion for people—especially the unborn,” said Eddie Lucio of his eventual replacement.


Eddie Lucio’s last year in the Texas Senate was emblematic.

During 2021’s legislative sessions, the long-serving Democratic senator from the border town of Brownsville successfully passed bills to crack down on negligent dog owners and to encourage athletic opportunities for kids with disabilities. Lucio, a deeply Catholic septuagenarian, has long championed such laws that paint him as a defender of the vulnerable. In the same period, his decades-long war on reproductive health care reached its zenith. Alone among Senate Dems, Lucio coauthored Senate Bill 8, the state’s near-total abortion ban that empowers private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps someone obtain an abortion, creating a de facto bounty-hunting system as reckless as it is cruel. 

This was typical Lucio. Over his 35 years in the Texas Legislature, he passed bills promoting autism treatment for children, limiting the death penalty, and funding roads in South Texas’ poorest neighborhoods. In 2017, he was also the only Democrat to support Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s transphobic “bathroom bill,” a misleading measure that would have restricted restroom access for transgender Texans. In the early days of Lucio’s political career, he made his bones backing the right-wing movement known as “tort reform”—a euphemism for kneecapping the ability of injured workers and consumers to sue companies. Some years back, he dabbled too in the shady business of consulting for the private prison industry. 

Earlier this month, Lucio made the surprise announcement that he was hanging up his Senate spurs. At a news conference in Harlingen, Lucio said he’s retiring to focus on his family and his “own personal ministry to help the less fortunate in our community.” The arch-conservative Dan Patrick lamented the loss of a “great friend and ally in the Texas Senate.” 

In 2019, Lucio told the Observer he intended to stay in office at least through 2021 to make sure his home region—the Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville in particular—wouldn’t lose influence during redistricting. This effort bore little fruit, at least for his political party. His own district was redrawn to be more competitive for a potential Republican candidate and to include more voters from outside the Valley. One of three U.S. House seats covering the Valley, District 15, was redrawn such that former President Trump would have carried it in 2020. It is now a top GOP target. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lucio also lamented how the Brownsville area’s two state House seats had been rearranged. 

So, who will replace this retiring titan of Valley politics?

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Some political observers long expected Lucio would be succeeded by his son, state Representative Eddie Lucio III, but the latter announced his own retirement from the House in October without public plans to run for another office.

Shortly after the senator announced his retirement, Sara Stapleton Barrera, a trial lawyer who challenged Lucio in the 2020 Democratic primary, announced she would run for the now-open seat. Stapleton Barrera was backed by pro-choice, LGBTQ rights, and environmental groups in 2020 and managed to force Lucio into a runoff, which she lost by seven points. Her current campaign website focuses on a more milquetoast set of issues, including term limits and campaign finance reform. 

Other rumored candidates for Lucio’s seat include state Representative Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, whose home was drawn out of his current district during redistricting, and Morgan Lamantia, a member of the prominent South Texas family that runs the L&F beer distribution company, who has donated to both Democrats and Republicans.

Lucio has never apologized for his reactionary record on abortion and LGBTQ rights. “My faith leads me to my decision making; I won’t change that because of modern trends,” he told the Observer in 2019. 

Reached by phone on Friday, he described the person he hopes will succeed him in his Senate seat. “I want somebody that has compassion for people—especially the unborn,” he said. Asked whether he cared which party the person belonged to, he said he did not.