WASHINGTON – Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) teared up Thursday as he formally announced plans to retire after more than two decades in Congress.
"I should have Boehner here, right?" he joked, referring to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who often wells up on emotional occasions.
"For me, it's time to walk away," McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said as he made his announcement in the committee's wood-paneled hearing room in front of a row of flags and surrounded by official portraits of former chairmen. His wife of more than 51 years, Patricia, was in the audience.
Since 1992, McKeon, 75, has represented a district that currently stretches from the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley through the Antelope Valley and a small portion of Ventura County. It includes a large number of major military facilities.
McKeon cited the GOP-imposed term limits for committee chairs that will force him to give up the gavel at the end of the year as a factor in his decision.
Another factor, however, could be Republican hopes to hang onto the district, which has been trending more toward the Democrats in recent years. President Obama narrowly carried McKeon's district in 2008, but Republicans hold a 39%-to-35% registration edge over Democrats in the district's current boundaries, which were redrawn after the 2010 census.
Republicans are apt to have an easier time holding the district in 2014, a midterm election when Democratic turnout could be low, than they would if McKeon had waited until 2016 to leave. If a Republican wins the district this year, the candidate could run for reelection as an incumbent in the tougher political environment of a presidential election year
McKeon has endorsed Republican former state Sen. Tony Strickland to succeed him. Republican State Sen. Steve Knight also has said he plans to run, setting up a primary race.
Several Democrats, -- including Lee Rogers, a podiatrist who ran against McKeon in 2012, and Evan Thomas, a retired Air Force officer and test pilot -- also have signaled interest in running.
Boehner praised the California congressman for "his deep commitment to our war fighters who keep America free and strong." McKeon succeeded Boehner as chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee in 2006, when the Ohio Republican became majority leader,
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also praised McKeon for setting a tone on the committee "that the rest of Congress should seek to emulate."
"As political tension continued to rise in Congress, Buck stayed committed to bipartisanship," he said. "While we disagreed, and disagreed on many things, we disagreed in a respectful way that allowed this committee to continue to move forward and achieve its important goals."
McKeon looked back on his political career, dealing with issues big and small, from working to kill a proposed garbage dump in his district to fighting spending cuts to the Pentagon.
Vowing to remain busy in his final year as chairman, including traveling more to Afghanistan and other foreign lands, he ended with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: "I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end."