HARLINGEN — Long-serving state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, announced Thursday he will not seek re-election after three decades in the job.

Lucio, 75, made the announcement at a press conference at his offices on Van Buren Avenue in Harlingen, saying he was retiring at the end of his term.

Noting wryly that “you can’t keep a secret in politics,” Lucio confirmed speculation that he would announce the end of a career in public office that began with his election as Cameron County treasurer in 1971.

After going on to serve as a county commissioner, he won two terms in the Texas House before being elected to the Texas Senate in 1990. He is third in seniority in the upper chamber.

“I wanted people to think, well, he’s got two choices,” Lucio told the crowd at the press conference. “Number one, he can announce for re-election and … option two was I’m running for higher office. A little old for that, maybe.”

“Number three, I’m retiring,” he added. “For a good reason. To do some of the things I’ve been wanting to do, like my own personal ministry to help the less fortunate in our community. … A lot of wonderful things are yet to come in my life.”

Lucio, vice-chairman of the Senate Education and Finance committees, has long been known to reach across the political aisle to work with his Republican colleagues if it furthered his vision of what was good for the Rio Grande Valley.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez issued a statement wishing Lucio well in his retirement.

“The significance of the retirement of Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. cannot be overstated. He has been a public servant for more than 50 years and has ably served in the Texas Senate for more than 30 years. He has been a relentless advocate of the Rio Grande Valley and a terrific friend of Hidalgo County. I congratulate him on his retirement and I wish him well in this new chapter of his life. Whatever he chooses to do next, I know it will involve the best interests of South Texas,” Cortez stated in a press release.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio smiles after being chosen as Border Texan of the Year at Plains Capital Bank in McAllen Friday Jan.20,2017. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Lucio grew up in the Bougainvillea neighborhood of Brownsville, and he spoke of the difficulties his large family had in finding housing, which led him to become one of the state’s foremost advocates for homes for the poor.

He authored the Senate bill which created the Bootstrap Program, which provides low-interest loans to families to help make housing affordable, something he felt acutely growing up in a large, 10-children family for which housing was often difficult to find.

“I remember those days, and we were pleased and we were happy to have a home to come to, to unite in and to grow in,” he said last year at an Operation Bootstrap event. “As soon as my dad found a little old home out in West Brownsville, we moved out so other folks that were even needier than we were could have those homes. To me housing is everything.”

Lucio, a former teacher who earned his degree at Pan American University, was a strong pro-life supporter and broke with his Democrat Party colleagues on the issue.

He also was an unwavering proponent of higher education, and was particularly instrumental in establishing the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Lucio, whose current term expires in January 2023, earlier this year indicated he would run for re-election, so his announcement Thursday did come as something of a surprise. His son, state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, also recently announced he would not be running for re-election to his House seat.

“I want to thank my wife. I met her in February of ‘63,” Lucio recalled. “Back in those days, you went steady before you got married. For those of us that remember what the word steady means, you stayed with the girlfriend for five years or three years. In my case it was five years, so Minnie and I have been together for actually 57 years, 58 now.”

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Lucio added. “God’s plan for me was perfect.”