Retirement watch: 4 California members of Congress who might bow out by 2018, and one who almost definitely will

So far, none of California’s 55 senators and representatives have announced plans to retire ahead of the 2018 election. But after weeks at home with family during the holidays to talk about the future, such declarations could come soon.

Every two years, a few members announce it’s time to come home because they want more time with family or there is a chance to run for another office. Plus, most of California’s members are Democrats and won’t control any branch of government come Jan. 20.

“Life in the minority party is frustrating, especially in the House. It is not just that your proposals are unlikely to prevail, it is that they are unlikely to even get considered,” said UC Irvine political scientist Matthew Beckmann. “For Democratic members who forecast four to eight years of a Republican rule, there are compelling reasons to think the grass is greener outside of Washington.”

Another factor is how long some of them have been in Washington: Twelve of the state’s seats have been held by the same person for 20 years or more. And 18 members are 65 or older, the age when many people begin to consider not working any more.

California political observers said they’re watching most of the 10 members in their 70s for retirement in 2018 or 2020, noting the long cross-country commute and a few rumored health problems that have popped up. 

Retiring members in long-held seats often try to give potential candidates as much time as possible to prepare a run. Retiring Democrats Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara and Sen. Barbara Boxer gave more than a year’s notice of their plans to head home.

We’ll likely get a good idea of who will stay or go during the next six months. For now, here are the most-watched candidates for retirement.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

At 83, Feinstein is the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, and with 24 years under her belt, the California political establishment is buzzing about whether she will seek another six-year term.

Feinstein has sent mixed messages about her plans, and suggested last April that she needed to get closer to the election before announcing her decision.

“I’ve got two years and nine months. Ask me that in about a year,” Feinstein said with a grin during a late March meeting with Los Angeles Times editors and reporters. “I’ll give you the answer then.”

She has about $2.6 million in the bank, a small war chest for a fifth-term senator two years out, but that might be because donors have been focused on the presidential race.

Feinstein also likely will consider the health of her husband, investment banker and UC Regent Richard Blum, who began treatment for lung cancer during the summer.

Her new position as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee may keep her in Washington. Feinstein is the first woman to hold the job, and she is raring for fights with Republicans and the administration of President-elect Donald Trump over judicial nominees, especially for the Supreme Court.

If Feinstein does retire, her decision could shake up a few congressional districts because several members and state officials are expected to sign up to run for her office. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco)

With 30 years in office, the 76-year-old Pelosi is the longest-serving member of the California House delegation.

But she’s showing no signs of slowing down. Picked by colleagues in November to lead House Democrats for the eighth time, Pelosi will be one of the most visible foils for the Trump administration.

Beckmann said it’s a testament to Pelosi that she has stayed in leadership so long, but other members are clamoring for a chance to lead the caucus.

“Given the ages and tenures of the current Democratic leaders, I suspect this will be Mrs. Pelosi’s final stint as Democratic leader,” Beckmann said.

Pelosi has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run again in 2018, but don’t read too much into that. Many long-serving members routinely file documents as soon as an election ends because it allows them to start raising money immediately. Nearly half of California’s 55 members have filed statements of candidacy for 2018 since Nov. 8.

If Pelosi does decide to retire, keep an eye on her close friend 74-year-old Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), who has represented her Northern California district for 24 years and might decide to retire too.

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Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk)

At 80, Napolitano is the oldest of the state’s House members. She suffered a minor stroke earlier this year that affected her ability to write and slightly slowed her walk. She also is the primary caretaker for her elderly husband, and both factors could impact Napolitano’s decision.

Several political watchers said Napolitano pushed so hard to win reelection in 2016 in part to keep her opponent and fellow Democrat, State Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), from having a chance to represent the district.

Hernandez effectively ended his campaign in August after a judge granted his ex-wife’s request for a domestic violence restraining order against him.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa)

The longest-serving Republican in the California delegation has been the subject of retirement rumblings for years.

Rohrabacher, 69, who has represented his Huntington Beach-area district for 28 years, lashed out at former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh last April when Baugh began raising money in anticipation of the congressman’s potential 2018 retirement.

“I very much enjoy and am honored to represent my constituents in the 48th congressional district. My only plans are to continue to do so in 2016, 2018, and beyond,” Rohrabacher said.

Rohrabacher, who was floated as a possible secretary of State for Donald Trump, is viewed as sharing Trump’s sympathetic views of Russia. That could make him a major Capitol Hill ally for Trump and give him a reason to stay.

Still, Nathan Gonzales, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report newsletter, said there’s been so much talk about Rohrabacher retiring for so long that he wouldn’t be surprised if it happens after all.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles)

This one is pretty much going to happen.

Though he hasn’t made it official, Becerra will have to resign the central Los Angeles seat he has held for 24 years if he’s confirmed as California’s next attorney general, as is expected.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced last month he plans to nominate Becerra for the job once Kamala Harris is sworn in as California’s new senator on Jan. 3, but Becerra isn’t expected to give up his seat until he’s actually confirmed by the state Legislature.

Nearly a dozen people already have expressed interest in Becerra’s seat.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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