U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the Florida legislative delegation and the first Cuban American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in elected office.
“It’s been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview Sunday. “We just said, ‘It’s time to take a new step.’”
Her unexpected retirement marks the end of a storied career in which Ros-Lehtinen repeatedly broke political ground as a Cuban-American woman — and gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018.
Ros-Lehtinen, 64, was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of Southeast Miami-Dade County that leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points. It was Clinton’s biggest margin of any Republican-held seat in the country.
“Easy pickup” for any party not the Democrats, let me be clear. It would be very much in character to lose a race that’s theirs to win.
As for Ros-Lehtinen, her adamantine support for Israel, all manner of foreign wars, and for federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case (never let putative supporters of limited government forget this abhorrence) are a blight on a career admirably devoted to the rights of queer citizens and the health care of the poor and elderly. Although she had no choice but to be one of the last remaining GOP moderates with this district, she hasn’t softened these positions an inch.