Houston State Rep. Garnet Coleman first said he wouldn’t run for office in the fall, then recently told the governor he was taking early retirement.
Coleman said it was because of his long-standing health issues. An example, Coleman gave was, “Chronic low blood pressure, which made me faint or pass out all the time.”
He has had diabetes for a decade. But last May, during a special session, he felt abnormally ill.
“I couldn’t stop throwing up and I had been home in Austin for about a week,” he said of his symptoms.
When he didn’t seem to be getting better, one of Coleman’s staff members called 911. What happened next was shocking.
“It was like 8am on a Monday,” he recalls. my health… In fact, if I hadn’t gone to the hospital, probably in a day or two, I would have died.”
While in hospital, he decided to retire. He said it was also the partisan wrangling in the Legislative Assembly that also helped him realize it was time to leave.
“When you lose your leg and I wasn’t getting better,” he said. “I said, ‘You know, this is keeping me from getting better. “”
There were also limits now.
“I can’t drive now either, and getting around in a wheelchair isn’t as easy as it looks,” Coleman said.
It was even harder to serve in the state legislature.
“It keeps me from working on the floor, you know?” said Coleman. “You have to move, I have to move on the floor of the house, in a wheelchair. And it was not very easy.”
This isn’t the first time Coleman has spoken candidly about his health. Diagnosed with bipolar, he spoke about it openly, then saw health care as a major problem in Texas. He was even appointed by the Obama administration to work in the field of health.
“The idea of being asked by the President of the United States to work on providing health coverage to the people of the nation, and those are things that from day one – when I walked into the legislature, that I was trying to solve, making sure people had health coverage,” he said.
Coleman was just 29 when he won his first election 31 years ago, representing the Third Ward, where he grew up. He had only one year of school. His father – who was a prominent doctor, promoter and civil rights advocate, was unhappy with his son’s choice at first. But Coleman’s work on health care and education has been praised even by his Republican critics. He leaves as the fifth-longest-serving Democrat in the House.
Coleman said he always worked to make a difference, like his father. He reflects, “Watching my dad make sure black people had a seat at the table — both politically and financially, I mean, it was very influential to me because it was a labor of love.”
And when his dad told Coleman he was proud of him, he still cries just talking about it.
“He told me that on his deathbed,” Coleman recalled. “And it meant so much.”
He continues, “you know we all have our issues with our parents, and to get him to say those words, quite frankly, it just meant the world to me.”
Coleman said he would miss the camaraderie at the State House, but he said that was fading, as the partisanship heated up. While he will no longer be in the legislature, he has set up a think tank in the heart of the district he has represented for so long, Third Ward. He said he plans to continue working on some of the issues he fought for during his 30 years in office.
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