Even For Junkies, Predicting House Retirements A Tricky Affair
Historic Tidbit: Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers would often provide his new colleagues with a tip. He said they’d “spend the first two months wondering how they got here, then spend the rest of their careers wondering how everyone else got here.” Fitting words from a Senator considered to be among the most competent and congenial of his generation.
By Scott Crass
Predicting which members of the House of Representatives will retire is a parlor game that cannot possibly have 100% accuracy. For years, I and several web sites been attempting to do so. But that is foiled by the inability to know what folks are thinking inside.
Many members who have long seemed ready to ride into the sunset, whether a result of age or pending electoral troubles, constantly defy expectations and resist turning over the reins. In the past, this has included George Brown, Henry Hyde, and Ralph Hall (the latter now the oldest House member in history who I expect to continue).
Conversely, others at the apex of their career with unlimited potential and prospects of staying in Congress forever decide they want to try something new while they are still young enough. That has included Democrats and Republicans alike, such as Dennis Eckart, Pat Schroeder, Jack Fields, and Jack Quinn.
Redistricting has also meant retirements, in some cases involuntary, from scores of members who saw their options for re-election dwindle (Maurice Hinchey, David Dreier, and Jerry Lewis), but even with a few state maps still unresolved, that likely won’t be a factor this time.
So which House members may call it quits? By using the term, “retirement,” I’m not referring to House members who may be be gunning for promotions, such as Senate seats or Governorships. It’s early in the cycle, but departures in that regards are already at a fever pitch. I’m talking about those who are genuinely through.
Republican members have been the subject of most of the attention but there are a few Democrats who make the cut as well.
Bill Young, 82, has been on retirement watch list since I was in grad school in the late 90’s. In recent cycles, he has hinted that the time may be soon, but always pushes it to sometime down the road. It is said that Young would like his wife or son to succeed him but that is uncertain in a Democratic leaning district.
After nearly 43 years, Young already has the most consecutive service of a Republican. Were he to seek and win two more terms, he’d surpass the 46 years of Joe Cannon, whose tenure was twice interrupted.
Young’s fellow Floridians, John Mica and Ander Crenshaw are not getting any younger, but Mica could’ve used last years adverse redistricting and committee chairmanship term limitation to call it quits, but didn’t.
“Red Racing Horses” reports Buck McKeon, 75, as being frustrated by the defense cuts as mandated by the sequestration. And Lee Rodgers held McKeon to below 55%, his lowest margin since he first won the seat in 1992.
Also, two GOP Congressman from Wisconsin, Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri, are the second and third most senior Republicans behind Young will gain notice as well. Petri, in the past one of the most centrist members, has done a total metamorphosis to the right.
Others may not be at the top of the list, but might simply decide that the timing is right. In that vein, watch Rodney Alexander, who turns 68 in 2014 and John Carter, who will turn 73, though each may decide to go another cycle. Young’s seat would be a “tossup” but Republicans would have nearly certain odds of holding the rest.
When it comes to predicting House retirements, I always tell folks to think outside the box. Junior members have shocked people with exit surprises before, and the ever-increasing gridlock, polarization and fundraising demands has undoubtedly caused frustration that will only accelerate departures.
In that regard, Virginia’s Scott Rigell is at the very top of my list. A car dealer by profession, Rigell is a more results oriented job, which is why he doesn’t seem enamored with the House. Rigell took heat from conservatives when he accompanied Obama on a trip in his district (he had actually contributed to Obama in 2008),which is probably not helping. Rigell was one of 2 House Rs who opposed the subpoena on Eric Holder.
Another sophomore, Florida’s Steve Southerland was also vocal about distaste last year and with Bob Graham’s daughter likely to challenge him, he may consider quitting .But he could probably be persuaded to stay one more time.
Southerland’s Orange County colleague, Daniel Webster, had an unexpectedly tight race with former Orlando Sheriff Val Demmings in a district that was actually drawn to make him safer. Webster took many by surprise with his lax fundraising. Florida may be facing round 11 of redistricting, and Webster’s district could take in more of suburban Orlando . If that’s the case, his electoral fortunes would dwindle, which would make Webster a prime candidate for retirement.
New Jersey’s Jon Runyan is another possibility. Many insiders expected him expected him to throw in the towel in 2012 (it was thought the former Philadelphia Eagles star was constrained by rules prohibiting him from making money off of his former career). But he did go again. It remains to be seen whether he’d do it a third time, but the district did vote narrowly for Obama, and even though Democrats have no bench in the Ocean County portion that dominates Burlington, the GOP would probably not have to worry about this one.
In that vein, Runyan’s south Jersey colleague, Frank LoBiondo is another potential retiree. His anger in the Sandy debate was beyond palpable and even after 20 years, LoBiondo might not be in good enough stead with leadership to get a committee chairmanship. Unlike NJ-3, the Democrats do have a strong bench and it is led by a State Senator who has long fulminated GOP hopes of taking his coastal, Republican leaning legislative district. The same goes for Mike Fitzpatrick of Bucks County,Pennsylvania.
Larry Bucshon has found during his two terms representing the southwest corner of Indiana that he is neither enamored by the right or left. In turn, he doesn’t seem enamored with the art of campaigning. A physician by trade, he may decide practicing medicine may be preferrable. New York’s Richard Hanna is enamored by the left, but not the right, and for a Republican who needs to win a primary, that could be a problem. He has among the most centrist records and openly criticized his party for their positions on women’s issues. Some Democrats have even gone so far as to suggest Hanna caucus with them. That’s not likely but retring altogether may be. Hanna is another pol with a different life before Congress (he was a very successful businessman), and he to expressed a preference early on to simply stay a short time. Will 2014 be that time.
Michelle Bachmann has obvious problems in what is by far, the most Republican district in Minnesota . After surviving with less than 51% last cycle, she may feel it’s easier to promote her agenda (whatever that is) on the outside. If she does run again, Democrats might find her easier to beat on a year that Obama is not on the ballot.
Gary Miller is already pegged as a member of the Congressional marked men Caucus. His survival last year was the culmination of perhaps the boldest move by an incumbent. After an unfavorable redistricting, he sought a district, not an inch of which he was currently representing. Due to a snafu by the democrats, he won. But in a seat that gave Obama 57%, no one thinks he’ll replicate that, and Miller himself has done little to try to moderate his image. Some think that may be a sign that Miller knows he’s now renting his district.
One ray of hope. If Dana Rohrabacher retires, as is also speculated, Miller could try running a little bit south. He’s already represented a fair amount of Orange County.
On the Democratic side, most non-obvious watch members were taken care of already, voluntarily or not. Folks in tough districts who would know doubt be considering it were shown the door in 2010, and many others had redistricting. Many members left are in fairly safe district. But there is one big caveat: the minority.
Because many in the caucus had only four years to enjoy the glory of the majority before being returned to the dark side, most are familiar with it. Thus, the rush to the doors seems limited.
One big exception is Charlie Rangel. Embrolied in an ethics controversy and gaining new Hispanic turf, Rangel all but said he wanted one last hurrah. With backing from the Democratic establishment past and present, He got it, holding his primary by a mere 802 votes.
Also, watch 70 something California Congresswomen Lois Capps and Grace Napolitano. Both have now doubled the service they originally said they’d adhere to upon winning, but despite being in the minority again, neither seems ready to call it quits. When they do leave, Democrats will only be nominally favored to hold Capps’ district, but Napolitano’s successor would without question be picked in the primary.
Nancy Pelosi is a wild-card, particularly if she doesn’t see a path to Democrats regaining the majority. But at this point, she seems to be refusing to entertain the notion of either quitting or the Democrats failing to come out on top, so any departure would likely be in the form of a resignation after the elections.
Democrats will try to get John Tierney (Gary Miller’s fellow member of the Marked Men caucus) to retire. The Obama/Warren coattails was a gift, but he probably won’t be as lucky next time. And Minnesota’s Collin Peterson has indicated that he makes a decision about a new term just before the state’s filing deadline. But as one of the few remaining “Blue Dogs” remaining in the House (a once vibrant group that he helped find), the nearly 70 year old Peterson may simply decide not to file.
Finally, David Price. When colleague Brad Miller opted to retire rather than oppose Price following redistricting, it was thought that Price wanted just one more term. Price, 73, said that wasn’t true, and has shown no signs of quitting. But it’s possible.
The bulk of House retirements will start toward the end of summer and go well into next spring. A surprise departure can’t even be ruled out post-primary (Steve La Tourette)?But that can’t stop us from speculation. Hey, that is, after all, what being a junkie and then some is all about.