"We're leaving on our terms, and with a great reputation as a member of the Senate, in a chamber that I have just completely enjoyed the meaningful relationships with my colleagues," said Republican state Senator Ernie Lopez. "I adore my fellow senators, they are my best friends--on both sides of the aisle."
Lopez, a Republican senator for the 6th District, announced this week he will step away from his history-making seat in Sussex County which encompasses the beach communities of Lewes, Milton, and Rehoboth Beach, at the end of his current term.
"We made history 10 years ago when we ran for, and won, the 6th District, which was a newly created seats in eastern Sussex County. And we were very fortunate to go three elections undefeated in a district that was a Democratic district, and to win as a Republican and to get tremendous bipartisan support over three elections was just very humbling and a great honor. We've done great work in the legislature. We've got a reputation for solving problems in bipartisanship and passing meaningful legislation."
Lopez said it's time for him to focus on something more important than even politics right now: family. His daughters are growing up and they deserve more of his attention and time, he said.
"With a couple of daughters getting ready to move through high school and on the college and parents that are getting a little bit older, I felt it was probably the right time to step away," he said. "Make sure that I can dedicate some more time to making sure that my family is doing well, and that I'm there for them as we move through a different time of life."
Lopez called the previous legislative session his most successful to date, acting as a member of the Joint Finance Committee and passing Senate Bill 60--better known as Riley's Law, which provides medical marijuana access and exemptions for individuals with debilitating illnesses in Delaware and through which Lopez said "dozens of children around the state of Delaware today have benefitted and have been able to have very healthy lives"--and Senate Bill 66, which exempts drivers from having to pay a fee to renew their revoked license if meeting certain criteria.
"I just really do want to emphasize that in these very divisive political times nationally, I've made it a tenant of my work in the Delaware General Assembly to focus on bipartisanship and to focus on problem solving, and to focus on making improvements on a bipartisan basis for my constituents. It's a Delaware tradition," he said. "Just to be able to work across party lines to address challenges and issues is something that I feel as our constituents really need right now. And I've been able to deliver that during the course of my time in office, and I'm very proud of the work that we've done, and done together."
And he's not done yet.
"This was my most successful year that I've been in office, and I'm looking forward to another strong 16 months," Lopez said. "But in regards to some of the needs that I felt as though we had--and I had--in regards to my family right now, we thought it was the right time."
One thing he will miss, he said, was the camaraderie. Regardless of views, Lopez said he found a way to get along with everyone, and will miss the friendships he's made along the way. Even as race has been brought to the forefront of national conversation, Lopez said he's received no push-back from party members eager to keep a member of their caucus who helps diversify their representation of the party in the state.
"In the Delaware State Senate, we consider ourselves a family. And my Republican caucus colleagues have been so tremendously supportive of this decision. They understand," he said. "And I have to say, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who, who I've forged tremendous relationships with and gotten significant work done in the chamber, have been supportive. Everyone understands. I think everybody knows that I love my daughters and have a lot of fun with them, and that they're the most important parts of my life.
But he also noted he's still pretty young, and his departure doesn't necessarily mean it will be the last Delawareans see of him in the political arena. But it has to be the right moment and the right opportunity moving forward.
"I think there's a recognition that I'm just 44 years old and have been dedicated to public service and have a good reputation. So there'll be another opportunity down the road. And if that opportunity presents itself in a light that there's a door to walk through, then we'll give that consideration," Lopez said.
His history-making election was surely a surprise to his parents, Lopez said, and though the next opportunity would need to be the right one, he's allegedly not fixing his sights on a higher goal.
"I don't think my parents would have dreamed, 43 years ago when they brought my family over from Puerto Rico and I was just a baby, that they would have a son who turned out to be a Delaware State Senator," he said. "So we've already made history. We're not looking to to make any more records or put ourselves in the history books anymore. But I will always keep an eye open to making a positive contribution to Delawareans. And if that opportunity arises--in whatever capacity that may be--we'll definitely make sure that we'll give it a look. For right now, it's an important time to focus in on the people that matter the most to me, and that's my kids."