Saying Farewell to Retiring Obscure Caucus Members
At least two lawmakers are disappearing from the CQ Roll Call Obscure Caucus after the 113th Congress wraps at the end of this year — and you may not have noticed them at all.
Both are men who have mostly dodged the spotlight, assuming a low-key approach to their terms in federal office that favors building their reputations at work with their colleagues, little or no tweeting and distance from cable-news pundits.
As our team noted when last publishing this list, inclusion in the caucus isn’t meant as mockery or criticism. Members tend to climb the ranks while putting their heads down and focusing on parochial concerns or constituent services. Just because they’re not inclined to grab C-SPAN cameras and wink to fans back home after wins on the House floor like an overzealous soccer star doesn’t mean they haven’t made an impact.
To be considered, lawmakers must have served at least two full terms and have kept the self-promotion to a minimum. Senators aren’t included.
These are the Obscure Caucus veterans who are retiring.
Ed Pastor, D-Ariz.; 11th full term
2012 re-election: 82 percent
Pastor has tweeted exactly five times since last year’s Obscure Caucus list was published. Three tweets were about an urban rail line in the Phoenix area which he helped secure fundingfor, one congratulated Ruben Gallego, the Democrat running for his seat in Congress (who won on Nov. 4), and one announced his retirement.
His tweeting history is consistent with other aspects of his public presence. Pastor rarely speaks on the House floor, keeps it simple by keeping press releases to a minimum and doesn’t introduce many bills. In the 113th Congress, he sponsored five bills, all for immigration relief for individuals.
Since 1991, when Pastor was first elected to the office in a special election to replace the anything-but-obscure Rep. Morris K. Udall, he has become a trusted Democratic insider. He enjoys the leverage he gets from his seat on the Appropriations Committee — where he’s worked to bring more than half a million dollars for a light-rail project to the rapidly growing Phoenix area (that 60 percent of his tweet quota we mentioned), among other projects. He also sits on the Intelligence Committee.
He’s the first Mexican-American representative in Congress from Arizona, and has supported state water projects and a broad overhaul of the immigration system.
In addition to his 21st century Twitter presence, Pastor has a functioning website with a bio that says he is still in the 111th Congress and a thumbnail image listing 17 of his accomplishments since taking office more than two decades ago. Those accomplishments are mostly local, and include recognition for his work with the community on issues such as transportation, education and community development efforts.
Tom Petri, R-Wis.; 17th full term
2012 re-election: 62 percent
Petri’s last few months would likely have knocked him off the 2015 list, if not for his retirement. He is leaving Congress with slightly more of a bang than usual in his more than three-decade tenure in the Capitol.
In February, Petri requested an Ethics Committee review of his own actions advocating for a local Wisconsin defense contractor he happened to have a several hundred thousand dollar investment in. Two months later, in April, the congressman announced his retirement (making the question of whether he would have stayed in the Obscure Caucus basically moot). The House Ethics Committee announced at the end of September it would continue its investigation anyway , at least until he leaves office.
Petri is no stranger to the Roll Call 50 Richest list — he came in at No. 25 this year with a minimum net worth of more than $15 million.
Even with the controversy, the pragmatic Petri hasn’t seen as much publicity as other nationally known politicians in his state. He doesn’t have an official Twitter account, but he does regularly update an official Facebook page. His YouTube account’s most viewed video is one from 2010 of him riding a pedicab in front of the Capitol to advocate bike use in cities.
Petri has been passed up in recent years for top Republican spots on committees, in spite of his tenure in the House and his current rank as the third most senior House Republican. The Wisconsinite is currently the No. 2 Republican on the Education and the Workforce Committee and No. 3 on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also holds the chairmanship of the Highway and Transit Subcommittee.
Petri was the top Republican on the Aviation Subcommittee from 2007 to 2012, and in 2009 he opposed President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan, saying it didn’t include enough money for infrastructure.
It’s too early to know if any freshmen arriving in Washington will one day join the Obscure Caucus. Until then, the seven existing members will just have to bid farewell to Pastor and Petri.
The other Obscure Caucus members are Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla.; John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn.; Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.; Leonard Lance, R-N.J.; Rick Larsen, D-Wash.; Kenny Marchant, R-Texas; and Adrian Smith, R-Neb.
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