By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - U.S. Congressman Ed Pastor, an 11-term Democrat and the first Hispanic from Arizona elected to the U.S. Congress, said on Thursday he will retire at the end of this term from a district that is seen as a safe seat for Democrats.
Pastor, 70, whose district includes central Phoenix, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and is the ranking member of the subcommittee on transportation. His term finishes in early January 2015.
"After 23 years in Congress, I feel it's time for me to seek out a new endeavor," Pastor said in a statement. "It's been a great honor, a great experience and a great joy for me to serve in Congress. I think it's time for me to do something else."
Pastor, who did not elaborate further on why he was retiring, becomes the 38th member of the current U.S. House of Representatives to announce plans to leave by the end of this term, which finishes in early January 2015. The departing group has 21 Republicans and 17 Democrats.
Republicans control the U.S. House with 232 seats to 199 for the Democrats with four vacancies. Some 44 percent of voters in Pastor's district register as Democrats, compared to 16 percent who identify as Republicans, and analysts say it is unlikely a Republican candidate could win there.
CONTENDERS FOR SEAT EMERGE
Pastor became the first Hispanic from Arizona elected to the U.S. House of Representatives when he won a special election in 1991 to replace then-Congressman Mo Udall, a Democrat who resigned because of illness. Before that, Pastor had been a Maricopa County supervisor since 1976.
His 7th District is heavily Latino, including most of metropolitan Phoenix, south Glendale and the towns of Guadalupe and Tolleson.
A number of potential candidates for Congress had been waiting for Pastor to step aside, and several Democratic elected officials quickly announced plans to run for the seat.
Arizona State Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat and an Iraq War veteran, said in a Twitter message, "I am in for Congress."
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a Democrat, said she will also run, as did Democratic state Senator Steve Gallardo who has served 12 years in the legislature.
"There aren't a lot of Democratic seats that matter in Arizona and this is one of them," said Democratic political consultant Jay Thorne.
Political consultant Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Republican strategist and close adviser to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, said it would be highly unlikely any Republican candidate would be able to wrestle Pastor's seat from the Democrats.
Tim Sifert, an Arizona Republican Party spokesman, said the announcement was a surprise and no Republican candidate has announced, but he expects a Republican will vie for the seat.
"We want to give them a run for their money," Sifert said.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Cynthia Johnston, Diane Craft, G Crosse and David Gregorio)