Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, first Cuban American in Congress, to retire

By Allen Cone

April 30 (UPI) -- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban American elected to Congress, announced Sunday she is retiring at the end of her term in 2018 after nearly 28 years in the House of Representatives.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, has the longest seniority in the Florida delegation and was the first Republican congresswoman from the state.


Because her district in Miami is largely Democratic, the party hopes to pick up one of 24 seats needed to retake control of the House in 2018.

"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," she told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview. "We just said, 'It's time to take a new step.' "

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Last November, Ros-Lehtinen won in Florida's redrawn 27th District, a stretch of southeast Miami-Dade County. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in the district -- her biggest margin in any Republican-held seat in the nation.

Ros-Lehtinen defeated Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman by 10 percentage points.


"There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage," Ros-Lehtinen said to the Miami Herald.

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"There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I've said, "I've got to move on.' It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected -- but it's not about getting elected."

Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican, has been critical of President Donald Trump on deportations, transgender rights, budget cuts and healthcare. She said she didn't vote for Trump.

"I've served under all kinds of different dynamics in all these years that I've been in office here," said Ros-Lehtinen, who was first elected to Congress in 1989 after seven years in the Florida Legislature. "Though I don't agree with many, if not most, positions of President Trump."

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Her husband and longtime campaign chairman is former Miami U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen.

"We all know, or should know, that winning isn't everything," she said in a statement. "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.


She succeeded the late Miami Democrat Claude Pepper in a special election in 1989. Her campaign manager was former Gov. Jeb Bush. And Sen. Marco Rubio was once her intern.

Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana and came to the United States in 1960 when she was 7.

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