DOVER — Rep. Joe Miro, a Pike Creek Valley Republican, became the latest state lawmaker to join the exodus, announcing Thursday he will not seek re-election. Seven other lawmakers have already said they will retire at the end of the session.
Rep. Miro, who had been rumored to be contemplating retirement, revealed the news on the House floor, receiving a standing ovation from colleagues in response.
“You know when it’s time to leave,” he said. “You know it in your gut. After 20 years, I think it’s time for someone else to come and take the rein of the 22nd District.”
He gave a brief speech on the House floor and was then praised by other legislators, who applauded his sense of humor and dedication to the job.
The second-longest-tenured House Republican, Rep. Miro, 71, has held the 22nd Representative District seat since 1998. For nearly a decade, he has been one of the few New Castle County Republicans in the General Assembly.
The district has about 200 more registered Democrats than Republicans, making it a prime pickup opportunity for the Democratic Party. It sits north of Newark along the Twelve-Mile Circle that divides Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Democrat Renee Taschner, a former candidate for New Castle County Council, has filed to run for the seat, while Democrat Guillermina Gonzalez has formed a committee to seek the office.
Republican Fred Cullis has also created a committee to campaign for the district. Michael Smith, a Republican who unsuccessfully primaried Rep. Miro in 2014, said he is considering running and will make a decision within a few days.
Between five representatives retiring and two seeking Senate posts, seven of the 41 House districts are guaranteed to have new representatives after the November election.
Rep. Miro, who had pancreatic cancer several years ago, noted he is not stepping down because of an illness. He described himself as having “mixed feelings and emotions” about not returning next year but said it is the right decision.
Born in Mantanzas, Cuba, he came to the United States in 1962 at age 15 as one of 14,000 youth leaving Cuba as part of the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s Operation Pedro Pan.
He was placed in Wilmington and spent the next 18 months there before his family arrived.
Rep. Miro said he opted to run for office decades later to give back and help others.
Both Democrats and Republicans spoke fondly of him Thursday, with Rep. Helene Keeley, a Wilmington Democrat, saying she found it hard to support Democratic efforts to unseat him over the years.
“Joe, we’ve had a great time. It’s been fun to chat with you,” House Minority Leader Danny Short, a Seaford Republican, said. “We’re so fortunate that Harvey (Kenton, a Republican state representative from Milford) was on that ship in the bay off of Cuba to take you up from that raft to save your life to bring you to the United States. That may or may not happened, but that’s the story we’re telling and that’s the story we’re living by.”
Over the years, the number of Republicans from upstate shrank, as longtime legislators retired or were defeated. Rep. Miro, however, continued winning re-election, often with no opponent.
His closest election was 1998, when he ran for the open seat following the retirement of Republican Joseph Petrilli. A school teacher and New Castle County councilman, he defeated businessman Mike Ramone, 56 to 43 percent, in a primary. That’s the same Mike Ramone who now serves as a legislator from the 21st Representative District — something Rep. Ramone joked about Thursday.
Like Rep. J.J. Johnson, a New Castle Democrat who also announced his retirement this week, Rep. Miro was a member of the powerful Joint Finance Committee for a decade.
Rep. Miro took credit for a 2010 bill that restricted the use of cell phones while driving, calling its passage one of his proudest moments in office. Although he was not the primary sponsor of that measure, he noted he had previously introduced legislation to that end and pointed to those prior bills as helping generate momentum for the ban.
Rep. Miro is part of a wave of lawmakers leaving office: Also not running for re-election are Reps. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear; Harvey Kenton, R-Milford; Bryon Short, D-Highland Woods; and Johnson; and Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington; Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford; and Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover.
Additionally, Reps. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold, and Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, are running for the Senate.
The large number of retirements is unusual. 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined saw nine legislators leave the General Assembly. Three retired, while one resigned to take a state job. (One of the individuals who announced he would not run again died before the election.) The other five left involuntarily — they were defeated in their re-election bid.