U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will be retiring at the end of her term next year, after having served more than 38 years in elected office.
“Its been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” Ros-Lehtinen said to the Miami Herald Sunday in an exclusive phone interview. “We just said, ‘It’s time to take a new step.’”
Ros-Lehtinen has been a Republican House member since 1989 and consistently made political history as a Cuban-American woman, becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate. She was also the first Cuban American to serve in the United States House of Representatives and the first woman to serve as the Chair of a regular Standing Committee of the House.
Last November, Ros-Lehtinen was reelected to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, which according to the Miami Herald, is predominantly Democratic, with 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton having won it by 20 percent, the biggest margin of any Republican-held seat in the country.
Ros-Lehtinen was able to retain her incumbent seat, defeating Democrat Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 points.
This was her closest reelection race in years, but Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald that she wasn’t retiring because of the political shift in her district, or because of her disagreements with President Donald Trump, but because Congress didn’t appeal to her anymore.
“I will not allow my season in elected office be extended beyond my personal of its season, simply because I have a continuing ability to win,” Ros-Lehtinen wrote in a letter that was published Sunday afternoon by The Miami Herald. “We all know, or should know, that winning isn’t everything. My seasons are defined instead, by seeking out new challenges, being there as our grandchildren grow up, interacting with and influencing public issues in new and exciting ways.”
Cole Leiter, the spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sees Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement as a guaranteed win for the Democrat party and is a sign that the “Republican party was out of step with the values of Miami families.”
“Now it is all but guaranteed to be won by a Democrat who will finally provide the hard working people who live there the representation they deserve,” Leiter said in a statement. “As more vulnerable Republicans recognize the distance between their party and their districts, this retirement could well be the first of many.”
However, Ros-Lehtinen describes her district to be an “even-keeled district” and thinks it will be a “good, hard-fought fight.”
In her letter, Ros-Lehtinen also promised that she would continue to work “with the same fervor” she’s always had for the next 20 months and that she would continue to be the voice in Congress for the 27th Congressional district.
“I look forward to continuing to work for the betterment of our community and I will always be a voice for issues that impact South Florida…I can never repay what this country has given me and I’m honored to have been South Florida’s voice in Congress for so many years.”
Read the full letter here.