Heard on the Hill

Exit Interview: Rep. Lois Capps

California Democrat says partisanship largely took off with the tea party

Rep. Lois Capps is looking forward to long walks on the California beach. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In January, 26 House members will not be returning to Congress. Some of them will return to their home districts for good while some will stay on in Washington for other jobs or to pursue another office. HOH asked several of them to reflect on their political careers and offer some advice and insight for the future.

California Democrat Lois Capps, 78, was first elected in 1998. She announced in April 2015 that she would retire at the end of this term, her ninth full one in Congress.

Q: What will you miss most about being in Congress?

A: The people. And there are some very notable ones. The people who help us out. For a long time, there was a woman who stood watch over the entrance to the floor that many of us on our side of the aisle take. And her name was Cookie and now Joyce is down near the parliamentarian — she carries the mace in when they open the session and I’ve got to be friends with her. Elevator operators — Betty retired after many years, she was one favorite. All of us used to chat with her on the elevator. Plus, of course, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Q: What do you think the first thing you’re going to do back home in your district — out of office — will be?

A: I have quite a long commute across the country, at least two flights. I will say goodbye to the airport for awhile and I won’t miss those long flights, particularly wondering if the connection will be right. The other thing [that] I’ll look forward to is no time frame and just being able to go for a long walk on the beach. I live fairly close to it and hopefully, with some family members or a good friend. Just to not have to pay attention to how long I’m taking, what the deadline is for doing the next thing or my schedule — that sounds like fun.

Capps shortly after winning her special election in 1998. (Roll Call file photo)
Capps shortly after winning her special election in 1998. (Roll Call file photo)

Q: If you could change one thing about Congress what would it be?

A: I’ve noticed, during the time that I’ve been her, an increase in the partisanship. I don’t think we’re any different people than we were, than I was, but there used to be a lot more cooperation on bills and working with each other. Now, it’s hard to find a co-sponsor of an amendment or bill from the other side of the aisle and I’m sure, maybe they find the same thing to be the case. Also, it seems like the partisanship has come about really since the tea party elections — a different kind of person with a little different agenda and not as flexible in terms of the particular goals.

Q: What do you think is the most memorable moment you’ve had in Congress?

A: As a nurse before I came to Congress, passing the Affordable Care Act was one. Also, when I was elected. It was a special election. The seat had been Republican for 50 years and my husband won, he’s a Democrat, but he died suddenly in office. So this was about two and a half months after his death that I had gone through a special election to finish out the term. So my colleagues were Nancy Pelosi, Zoe Lofgren — all from California. He was elected in 1996 and he died in 1997. I never as a young person would have ever dreamed of being in this office.

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