For former Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., there is something to be said about the oft-ignored, rarely discussed “transition period” — that pivotal time when a member of Congress phases out of legislative life and must assimilate into a more normal one.
Baird, whose 12-year congressional career came to an end in 2011, had a “self-driven awareness” when in Congress, propelled by a sense of purpose. But upon his departure, he was left pondering where that sense of clarity originated — a feeling he said is shared among other recently phased-out congressmen.
After Baird left Congress, he received a new clarity of purpose through raising his 9-year-old twin sons.
“I found myself asking, ‘If I don’t make this choice, I’m not going to see these boys grow up,’” Baird, 58, said of his decision to retire and initially be a stay-at-home dad.
As a congressman, Baird would often fly more than 2,500 miles on weekends back to Washington’s 3rd District, leaving little time to see his family. He knew too many colleagues who missed their kids’ presentations and PTA meetings, prompting his retirement. A politician who believes in term limits, Baird also said the 12-year mark was an appropriate time to step down.
Now with more allotted family time, the former congressman is finishing up his first year as president of Antioch University Seattle. Baird even got to flex his fiscal conservatism muscles when he helped resolve the university’s budget deficit.
Baird credits his successful first year to his entrepreneurial spirit, as well as his aptitude for focusing on niches that are high value, but not necessarily high profile. However, there are challenges across the board in higher education, Baird said.
“We are finding ways to address two things. One, what is unique and particular about what we offer that makes it worth the money? And two, how can we lower the cost of what we deliver while still maintaining high quality education?” Baird said.
Antioch University Seattle primarily caters to returning adult college students through its bachelor completion program, with notable master’s programs in psychology and organizational leadership.
Looking ahead, one endeavor Baird said he is looking forward to is a curriculum that prepares returning service volunteers who have served in programs such as AmeriCorps.
Prior to taking on the role as university president, Baird’s mixed his dad duties with a part-time stint in governmental affairs for Pacific Northwest shipbuilding company Vigor Industrial. Baird was also chairman of Washington’s Student Achievement Council for nine months, until taking on the role of leading Antioch University Seattle.
Though satisfied with his post-congressional life, Baird said there are aspects of legislating he misses.
“It’s important to have courage and ask difficult questions, regardless of political consequences,” Baird said. “I feel like I did that in Congress and that I did it for the good of the country. I miss being able to do that.”
Baird introduced the STOCK Act in 2006, which restricts members’ ability to use information they get in the exercise of their official duties to profit off of their investments. He said it stands as one of his proudest accomplishments while in Congress. Though it was not until 2012, after he had left Congress, that a version was signed into law, Baird was proud of his role in helping push the measure early on.
The former Washington congressman also visited the Gaza Strip three times. He called what he witnessed there “heartbreaking, deep and true in a profound sense.”
“It’s troubling to continue seeing Congress unwilling to look at the full complexity of the issues there, not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank, too,” Baird said.
Baird said he misses having more of a stake in policymaking, but he does not miss living under the spotlight, with critics constantly challenging what he “could be doing.” Rather, he said he is focusing on what he “should be doing” –– which entails instilling a love of nature in his kids. As a family, they have hiked the Cascades and kayaked throughout the Pacific Northwest.
He encourages other congressmen “to be more willing to take courageous votes” as well as understand compromise is not necessarily a dirty word.
Another piece of advice for congressmen?
“Care for yourself and family along the way,” Baird said.
CQ Roll Call’s Life After Congress is designed to answer the question “Where are they now?” If that’s something you’ve asked yourself about a former member or members, drop us a line. We’ll do our best to track them down.