Don’t believe it when House Members insist they’re seeking re-election this cycle — at least until the ink is dry on their new districts.
Several lawmakers proclaimed that, of course, they would be back. But just days after his state’s map was signed, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on Monday shocked his colleagues by announcing his retirement. Similarly in Texas, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D) announced his retirement on Friday evening — just a few days after a federal court salvaged his 20th district on the proposed map.
The result? Surprises and potential headaches for party committees looking to avoid costly open-seat races. Nonetheless, many tenured Members are opting to wait until their new district is drawn to call it quits — much to the chagrin of their party colleagues.
“I find in redistricting, Members tend to look after No. 1,” former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) told Roll Call. “They rarely take one for the team.”
Party operatives expect many more retirements than the nine House Democrats and no House Republicans who so far announced they’re leaving after this Congress. Additionally, eight Democrats and seven Republicans are leaving the House after this Congress to seek another office.
Even if a Member has vehemently ruled out retirement, that could change once he or she first campaigns in a redrawn district.
It’s no coincidence Frank announced retirement one week after Gov. Deval Patrick signed the new Massachusetts map into law. Frank signaled he’d seek re-election back in February, but on Monday, he said the 325,000 new constituents in his district caused him to reconsider.
“This decision was precipitated by Congressional redistricting, not entirely caused by it,” Frank, 71, told reporters at a Massachusetts news conference. “I was torn. But then the new district came out.”
Frank’s acerbic wit and sharp debating skills have gone hand-in-hand with his high-level legislating. His exit was mourned by Capitol Hill Democrats and by President Barack Obama who called Frank a “fierce advocate” for the voiceless and credited him with the passage of the financial reform law bearing his name.
Massachusetts lost one seat in reapportionment, which would have forced one House Democrat into retirement if the entire delegation sought re-election. Rep. John Olver’s October retirement announcement made redistricting easier for mapmakers, who released their plan in November. But there’s little doubt the new Massachusetts map would look differently if Frank announced his intentions before his South Coast district was drawn.
In Texas, the federal court struck down a Republican-drawn map that dismantled Gonzalez’s San Antonio-based district and instead kept the 20th district largely intact in their interim plan.
Gonzalez protested the GOP’s original map and testified against it in court, only after which he said he seriously considered retirement.
“I wasn’t going to do anything until the court made its ruling on the interim map,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “Working real hard to maintain the 20th district wasn’t about Charlie Gonzalez, it was about the voters in the 20th district.”