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Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) said Thursday in a statement obtained by Roll Call that he will not seek re-election in 2008, ending months of speculation regarding the ethically clouded Congressman’s political future.
“I will not be seeking re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008,” Renzi said. “I am honored and thankful to serve Arizona’s first district and appreciate all that we have accomplished together over the past 6 years.”
A source close to the Congressman said Renzi spent the days leading up to Thursday’s announcement touring northern Arizona’s mostly rural 1st district to inform friends and supporters of his decision not to seek a fourth term.
Renzi’s retirement announcement adds to a list of GOP Members planning to depart upon the conclusion of the 110th Congress, including Reps. Ray LaHood (Ill.), Deborah Pryce (Ohio) and Chip Pickering (Miss.), as well as former Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.).
While some of those retirements and the open seats they are creating could cause problems for the Republicans’ hopes of recapturing the majority, Renzi’s departure could help the GOP by allowing them to nominate a replacement who is free of the ethical baggage that appears to have ultimately undone the Congressman’s political career.
But Democrats also plan to vigorously contest the newly open seat.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said he planned to immediately begin the recruiting process for a new 1st district GOP standard-bearer, and he pledged that his party would retain control of the seat come November 2008.
“Arizona’s First Congressional District is a Republican seat and we have every intention of keeping it that way,” Cole said in a prepared statement. “The Democrat majority has piled up a horrible record and the American people have taken notice. Any Democrat candidate will have to answer for the liberal agenda of Nancy Pelosi and the low approval ratings of the Democrat-led Congress.”
Despite questions about possible improprieties that were lingering in Renzi’s 2006 campaign, he retained the support of his constituents and staved off a spirited challenge from his Democratic challenger by winning with 52 percent of the vote. However, Renzi saw his political fortunes plummet this year following an FBI raid of a business connected to his family as part of a federal probe into his dealings as a Congressman.
Renzi has declined to comment on the investigation so as not to put himself in any unnecessary legal jeopardy.
But sources close to the Congressman say he is adamant that he has done nothing wrong and believes he ultimately will be exonerated. Still, it has become increasingly clear that the investigation would imperil any 2008 re-election bid and possibly result in him facing multiple GOP primary challengers.
With Renzi now set to retire, Democrats in Arizona and Washington, D.C., are high on their chances of stealing the 1st district from the GOP. The seat has a majority of enrolled Democrats, but the Democratic Party has been stymied since 2002 at least in part by Renzi’s ability to win a majority of American Indian voters.
Even though Renzi will not be on the ballot in 2008, Democrats are hoping his present legal situation will drag down the eventual Republican nominee.
“The people of Arizona’s First Congressional District deserve to be represented by someone who puts them first and is free of criminal and ethical scandal,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said.
Smelling blood, several Democrats already were positioning themselves to seek their party’s nomination in the 1st district. With Renzi making his long-rumored retirement announcement official, Republicans also are expected to get into the act.
On the Republican side, several individuals are examining a run, including former state Senate President Ken Bennett; anti-tax activist and 2002 candidate Sydney Hay; state Rep. Bill Konopnicki; state Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes; state Sen. Tom O'Halleran; rancher and GOP activist Steve Pierce; and former Navajo County Supervisor Lewis Tenney.
Bennett, Hay and Pierce are mentioned as potential frontrunners.
Mayes is a former Democrat and worked in the administration of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) before being appointed by her ex-boss to serve on the state Corporation Commission.
Among Democrats, there already are three announced candidates, including former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who per Arizona law recently resigned her legislative seat to run for Congress; former television reporter Mary Kim Titla; and attorney Howard Shanker.
Additional Democrats rumored to be exploring a bid include attorney Jim Ledbetter; Casa Grande Mayor Bob Mitchell, who is the brother of Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.); state Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens; state Rep Pete Rios; state Sen. Rebecca Rios; and 2002 candidate Fred DuVal.
Regardless of who secures the Democratic nomination next year, party officials are optimistic that things will go their way.
“We’re confident that a Democrat will be representing the constituents of the 1st Congressional district come the election,” Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Emily Bittner said.