WASHINGTON – It has been 16 years since Rep. Silvestre Reyes and his wife, Carolina Reyes, have had a vacation.
Reyes is leaving Congress after losing in the Democratic primary, and right now, his priority is clearing out his office and helping his staff find new jobs. Members of the 113th Congress will be sworn in Jan. 3.
“I’m just going to take things as they come,” Reyes said in a recent interview in his office. “I don’t have any real plans, except to take some time off and take that vacation that my wife wants us to take.”
Reyes plans to continue living in El Paso. He said he wants to stay active while enjoying his retirement, and friends and supporters have already contacted him to suggest opportunities.
“The last thing I want to do is commit to another 80-hour-plus-a-week job,” Reyes said. “I’ve got 45 years of government service.”
Because of his experience, Reyes said he may have an opportunity to contribute in the area of managing the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
“I’m very happy of the opportunity of getting my life back because this is the kind of job that you have to dedicate completely too, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 16 years,” Reyes said.
“There are a lot of opportunities, and I’m going to weigh those carefully and see what the future holds,” Reyes said.
As the 112th Congress comes to a close, communication between Reyes and Rep.-elect Beto O’Rourke has been vague, and a close relationship is nonexistent.
Attack ads during the primary campaign caused friction between the two. Reyes said it is hard for him to have a relationship with “someone that attacks your kids and is willing to do or say anything to get elected.”
That’s not the only reason for their lack of communication. He cited the law meant to prevent former members from lobbying current members of Congress for a year.
The law, 18 U.S.C, § 207 incorporated into the House Ethics Manuel, requires a one-year “cooling-off period.” Former members are not allowed to communicate or appear before current members with “the intent to influence them.”
“That’s one of those ethics committee reforms that we all have to abide by, and we all have to respect,” Reyes said.
Reyes said O’Rourke will have to stay focused on protecting the investments made in Fort Bliss, the sprawling Army post just outside El Paso, and making sure it has the infrastructure to support continued growth into the 21st century.
Reyes said unfinished business remains with ports of entry, trade, commerce and the challenges the border represents.
“Traffic is one of the key issues both throughout the district, and of course, with the international bridges,” Reyes said. “That’s something that [O’Rourke] attacked me on, and he’s about to discover just how difficult it is … especially with the challenges that we’re facing with the fiscal issues.”
Reyes said he will get beyond the friction.
“I live in El Paso, I love El Paso,” Reyes said. “I want El Paso to prosper, and I will continue to work to make that happen.”
Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto was in Washington just before his inauguration to meet with President Barack Obama and other officials. Peña Nieto also met with Reyes, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other members of Congress.
“He’s someone that I know, someone that I respect and someone that I’m hopeful will have a very good relationship with President Obama,” Reyes said.
Reyes, who has known Peña Nieto since the president was governor of the State of Mexico, said he hopes Peña Nieto will continue a lot of the policies from President Felipe Calderón’s administration on managing the border.
Reyes, a Vietnam combat veteran, worked for the U.S. Border Patrol for 26 years before retiring and running for Congress.
In his 16 years in office, Reyes has held a border conference every year. He said it is imperative that the U.S. and Mexico “get people to appreciate how important the border region is” after being neglected for decades. But he said there is still a long ways to go to the goal of a 21st century border.
Reyes is proud of his work in retaining Fort Bliss as one of El Paso’s main economic engines and a premier part of the country’s national security. During his first term in 1996, Reyes worked to keep the Department of Defense from shutting Fort Bliss as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission process.
Reyes voted for the 2009 stimulus bill, which brought El Paso $1.7 billion for transportation projects. He also voted for the Affordable Care Act, which he said will be a key legacy of Congress and Obama’s presidency.
From January 2007 to January 2011, Reyes served as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Reyes said former CIA Director Leon Panetta briefed him in mid-2010 about a lead to Osama Bin Laden’s location. Panetta needed authority from the committee to reprogram money for identifying and capturing Bin Laden. U.S. forces killed Bin Laden May 1, 2011.
Now that he is leaving office, Reyes said it is a challenge to pack up and reflect on his 16 years of service.
He will keep his awards and plaques in his home. He has talked with the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College about creating a depository where his documents, records, pictures and other items can be kept. Whatever he does next, he doesn’t plan to stay home watching TV.
“When people complain about time, that there isn’t enough time in the day, my grandpa used to say, ‘There’s plenty of time, you just have to go to bed later or get up earlier, or both’” Reyes said. “But this is a job that even if you somehow manage to work 24 hours a day, every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, you never finish the job.”
Reach reporter Kristopher Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.