TYLER, TX (KLTV) - For the first time in twelve years, when the Texas legislature gavels in on Tuesday, Jan. 10, Kevin Eltife will not be representing senate district one after announcing he would not seek another term. Eltife, who was once councilman and mayor of the City of Tyler, was known as a person who did not always vote the way of his own party.
"The thing I'm most proud of is being independent, voting my conscience, standing up for what's right," Eltife said. "It's kind of what I told the voters when I was sworn in back in 2004 that I'd stand up for the district and do what I thought was right, no matter who was on the other side of an issue."
Eltife described his time in Austin as less of a lawmaker and more of a problem solver.
HELPING EAST TEXANS
The Tylerite said he will remember legislation that achieved a pharmacy school at the University of Texas at Tyler, enhanced dental hygiene programs at Tyler Junior College, and also helping East Texans with struggles they encountered. He pointed to laws now on the books that made cannabis oil available to those who suffer from epileptic seizures, and Kari's Law, which ensured more-direct access to 9-1-1 from buildings with multi-line telephone systems.
"When we passed Kari's Law with Representative [Chris] Paddie with [Kari's] family that's just-- it means a lot," he said. "And with the cannabis oil for children, these children are having 200-300 seizures a week and by passing this law and allowing oil for these kids, it'll slow down those seizures.
When you meet those parents and see those kids and you actually put something in law that may help them that -- means a lot."
BRINGING TYLER TO AUSTIN
Eltife tried to get items that were successful in Tyler on the state level. One of those efforts included a version of the half cent sales tax, which helped the City of Tyler pay for improvement projects in the city without increasing debt. The legislation never passed in Austin.
"I tried... I tried talking about raising sales tax and gas tax, getting off of debt. Instead we've doubled the state's debt all in the name of 'no new taxes," Eltife said.
The East Texas state senator said it is a harder sale on the state level convincing 150 house members, 31 senators and state elected officials to get on board with a plan.
He also tried repeatedly to get lawmakers to get on board with bills where he suggested state-elected officials, including representatives and senators, should be held under term limits. However, those bills never passed.
"I don't think you should stay there forever," Eltife said. "I think fresh faces are a good thing, but you should vote your conscience and do what's right."
CRAFT-ING BEER LEGISLATION
Eltife gained statewide recognition in recent years when he was able to pass a series of bills that assisted the state's growing craft beer industry. Since the laws passed, two craft breweries opened in the City of Tyler, and several others have popped up in East Texas.
"The craft beer legislation is a piece of legislation that really opened up the industry in Texas," Eltife said. "And hopefully the legislature will continue to do more because it's a thriving industry creating jobs."
LEAVING ON TOP
When he leaves office after twelve years, Eltife will leave as the state senate's president pro tempore, which is a status designating a state senator as third in line to the Governor of Texas.
Eltife was selected to that position by the other senators after the last legislative session. With Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick spending time on the campaign trail for presidential candidates and other activities, Eltife did have to fill in as governor several times.
While no major decisions were made during Eltife's days as governor, he said he was proud to have the title.
"It's a huge honor -- I probably served 10-15 times as governor since the session was over," Eltife said. "It's a great way to finish you career in the senate. I've enjoyed every minute of it and made friends I'll have for life, and have been honored to serve."
As for whether Eltife would want a higher position in the future, he said he has nothing in mind but "you know, you never say never."
He said after his time in the senate, he will be focusing on other ways he can serve his community, and possibly the state, in a volunteer role.
ADVICE TO A NEW SENATOR
Taking the position of state senator for district one will be Bryan Hughes of Mineola. Prior to winning election as state senator, Hughes was a state representative for fourteen years.
Eltife said he spent years working with then-Representative Hughes and has spoken to him about taking the senate position. He said he has given the soon-to-be senator advice when he's asked.
"I just told him [Bryan Hughes] to always vote your conscience -- that's the main thing," Eltife said.
Hughes will begin his term as state senator when the 85th Legislative Session is gaveled in on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at the State Capitol.