Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), scarred by the “Keating Five” scandal and facing a tough reelection fight, Tuesday announced that he would retire rather than face the voters again in 1994.
In his unexpected farewell address, Riegle said that he wanted to spend more time with his family and did not mention his intervention with federal regulators on behalf of convicted savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr. The Senate Ethics Committee said that Riegle’s actions “gave the appearance of being improper” but recommended no other reprimand. The senator denied wrongdoing.
Riegle was the sixth member of the Senate to announce this year that he would not seek reelection next year. Another of the six, Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), was also linked to the Keating investigation.
A third member of the Keating Five, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), retired last year. Only Sens. John Glenn (D-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who received mild rebukes from the Ethics Committee, survived politically. They won reelection last year.
Riegle, 55-year-old chairman of the Senate Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee and a high-profile opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement, belongs to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, although he started in politics as a Republican.
Democrat Carl Levin, Michigan’s other senator, said that he was “shocked” by the announcement and said he had no doubts that Riegle would have been returned to the office that he first won in 1976.
“Don was gearing up for another winning campaign,” Levin said. “He is an impassioned voice for working men and women.”
Polls in Michigan, however, indicated that Riegle’s approval rating had slipped to 34%, compared with a 51% negative showing.
One possible successor is James J. Blanchard, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, who, as a former Democratic governor, enjoys statewide name recognition. On the Republican side, former Michigan GOP Chairman Spencer Abraham has indicated that he wants to run.
Riegle’s political problems could be traced in part to the ethics investigation of five senators and their relationship with Keating, a major political contributor who has since been convicted of fraud in the operation of the defunct Lincoln Savings & Loan.
The five lawmakers were accused of seeking campaign funds from Keating while they were intervening on his behalf with federal regulators.
Riegle, who was elected to the House as a Republican in 1966 and became an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, switched to the Democratic Party before he won his first Senate election.
Riegle Among 6 Senate Retirees
The six sitting senators who aren’t seeking reelection:
* Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), citing a desire to spend more time with his family and working on the issues at hand, said Tuesday he wouldn’t seek a fourth six-year term.
* Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) acknowledged that polls showed his popularity plummeted after he supported President Clinton’s deficit-cutting plan, which passed the Senate by one vote. He, along with Riegle, was among the “Keating Five” linked to the savings and loan scandal.
* Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) acknowledged he faced a tough reelection fight next year. He and two associates go on trial in January on charges he illegally claimed reimbursement from the Senate for staying in a Minneapolis condominium he secretly owned.
* Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) said he wouldn’t seek a fourth term because Wyoming voters support term limits, even though the new law didn’t go into effect until this year.
* John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) said he wanted to return to practicing law and to fulfill a commitment to the Episcopal Church. He is an ordained minister.
* Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who is 75, said the time was right to retire and he wanted to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren.
Source: Times wire reports