Health issues force Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman to retire from state politics

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A longtime lawmaker in the Texas legislature is leaving his position, after more than 30 years.

Houston state Rep. Garnet Coleman first said he would not run for reelection in the fall, then recently told the governor he was retiring early.

Coleman said it's because of his long-standing health problems. One example, Coleman gave was, "Chronic low blood pressure, which caused me to faint or pass out all the time."

He has been struggling with diabetes for a decade. But last May, during a special session, he felt unusually sick.

"I couldn't stop throwing up and I'd been in my place in Austin for about a week," he said about his symptoms.

When he didn't seem to be getting better, one of Coleman's staff members called 911. What happened after was shocking.

"That was like at 8 a.m. on a Monday," he recalled."After being out six days and that afternoon they cut my leg off. I didn't realize that I had flesh-eating bacteria and that it was creating real issues with my health... As a matter of fact, had I'd not gone to the hospital, probably within a day or two, I would've been dead."

While in the hospital, he decided to retire. He said it was also the partisan bickering in the legislature that also helped him realize it was time to leave.

"When you lose your leg, and I wasn't getting any better," he said. "I said, 'You know, this is stopping me from getting better.'"

There were also the limitations now.

"I also can't drive now, and the getting around in a wheelchair is not as easy as it appears," Coleman said.

It was even more difficult to serve in the state legislature.

"It keeps me from being able to work on the floor, you know?" Coleman said. "You have to get around, I have to get around on the floor of the house, in a wheelchair. And that wasn't very easy."

It's not the first time Coleman has been frank about his health. Diagnosed as bipolar, he's talked about it openly, then took on health care as a major issue in Texas. He even got an appointment by the Obama administration to work on healthcare.

"The idea of being asked by the president of the United States to work on providing health coverage to people in the nation, and those are the things that from day one - when I went into the legislature, that I was trying to resolve, making sure that people had health coverage," he said.

Coleman was only 29 when he won his first election 31 years ago, representing the Third Ward, where he grew up. He was just a year out of school. His father - who was a prominent doctor, promoter and civil rights advocate, wasn't happy with his son's choice at first. But Coleman's work on health care and education won praise even from his Republican critics. He leaves as the fifth most senior Democrat in the House.

Coleman said he's always worked to make a difference, like his dad. He muses, "watching my father make sure that that black people had a seat at the table - both politically and financially, I mean, that influenced me greatly because it was a labor of love."

And when his dad told Coleman he was proud of him, he still tears up just talking about it.

"He told me that on his deathbed," Coleman recalled. "And it meant so much."

He goes on, "you know we all have our issues with our parents, and to have him say those words, quite frankly, it just meant the world to me."

Coleman said he'll miss the camaraderie in the state House, but he said that's disappearing, as the partisanship grows more heated. While he won't be in the legislature any more, he's set up a think tank in the heart of the district he represented for so long, Third Ward. He said he plans to continue working on some of the issues he's fought for, during his 30-year tenure.

For more on this story, follow Melanie Lawson on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.