BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr, who retires Tuesday from public office, isn’t a typical Texas Democrat.
Many times, he has consistently supported Republican efforts to pass laws against abortions, and in 2022 he endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s re-election, and Lucio plans to be there in Austin when Patrick is sworn into office on Jan. 17.
But if Lucio’s career were to have started today, rather than 48 years ago, he would still be a Democrat, he said.
“I consider myself a Democrat for a lot of reasons, but I’m a conservative Democrat,” Lucio told ValleyCentral. “I’m a pro-life Democrat, and there’s very few [Democrats] that will tell you that. There are many, many, many Democrats that are pro-life, but they will not engage themselves with anyone in the community because they don’t want to be embattled with anyone.”
For Lucio, his pro-life views reflect his community, which was more important than keeping in step with the political party, he said.
“I represent a district that’s very conservative, very Catholic, very Christian,” Lucio said. “And I never — never — got the support of my party. Never did the party leaders ever call me to say, ‘Hey, Lucio, let us set up your next campaign.”
Lucio was guided by his faith and his belief in God’s commandment of love, he said.
“Never, never in my whole time I was there [in the Senate] did I ever want to cause harm to anyone, dislike to anyone,” Lucio said. “I believe that God’s greatest commandment is something we have to live with and to try to live up to and that is the commandment of love, but I really care for people, especially the unborn. But I care for everyone.”
He plans to elaborate this history in a book he plans to author over the coming 15-20 months. The book will draw upon his life in public service for half a century.
“I started in public office in 1970 [when] I ran for county treasurer, and I served as a county treasurer for Cameron County for eight years,” Lucio said. “Back then, we had Bob Bullock, who was a state comptroller. I worked with him to establish a uniform system to help rural county treasurers, especially, understand what their job was as the treasurer and the check-and-balance system that was set up through the [Texas] Constitution.”
Lucio campaigned for the Cameron County Commission in the 1970s, won a seat and served for four years.
“It was right after that race when we had redistricting, that I personally redistricted myself from inside the city limits of Brownsville to the rural area. I was pretty idealistic at the time — it was my plan that the court considered,” Lucio said. “And when I went out to campaign [for reelection], something funny happened.”
Rural residents wanted Lucio to use county resources and manpower to make improvements on private roads and property, and he refused, explaining to them that to do so would violate the law, he said.
“And it’s against the law today,” Lucio added. “But when the election came by, that’s where I lost. I lost in those areas where I told people I couldn’t help them because it’d be against the law.”
Nobody wants to lose a campaign for public office, Lucio said, but he now sees that defeat as having had happened for a purpose. He left county government and went into teaching for five and half years at the Brownsville Independent School District.
“That was so meaningful to me,” Lucio said. “I love teaching. I loved coaching, football, basketball, track, when I was a young man. It turned out to be a wonderful experience that I went through in the early years.”
It was in 1986 that he returned to public office, having won election as a state representative. Then in 1990, he ran for the Texas Senate — and won.
He took the oath for that office in 1991 and has served as a state senator since. Tuesday will mark his final day in office. Reflecting on his 48 years of public service — through the county, public schools, and state offices — he told ValleyCentral that he cannot think of anything he would have rather done, than to serve the public in the capacity that he did.
For a time, Lucio was the Valley’s only senator. He had influences in creating an interstate highway and helped to redistrict a senate position to represent the western end of the Valley.
“And, you know, I’ve been involved in many things, but one of the greatest things that I’m accomplished for the citizenry as a whole was to add more doctors through our medical school,” Lucio said. “I passed the first bill in 1997 to create the [Valley’s] first medical school.”
Those efforts lead to the creation of the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen in the late 1990s and has evolved into the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s medical school, “an amazing feat,” Lucio said.
“So I’m thankful to God, I’m thankful to the citizens who kept me there all these years, allowing me an opportunity to really be part of a great change that came came about in the Rio Grande Valley,” Lucio said.
The senator told ValleyCentral he had no major plans to celebrate his retirement Tuesday other than to wish those taking office well. “And I’ve done that,” he said. “I’ve called them and wished theme the very best. I’ve offered them [my help], as I have a lot of institutional knowledge about state government. They can ask me any time for advice or recommendations, if they want to talk to me.
“If they don’t, that’s fine. We continue to be friends and part of our community.”
His father told him in 1970, when he first ran for public office, “Son, people don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”
Lucio says he’s remembered his father’s words across his career.
“I never forgot that, I never forgot that in all my days that I served in public office,” Lucio said. “I wanted to show people that I truly cared.”