Ambition, Redistricting Likely to Fuel 2002 House Retirements

From Associated Press

When GOP Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee let it drop that he might run for governor next year, ambitious House members saw fresh career opportunities.

“Fred Thompson is the king domino,” says Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., one of five or six members of the state’s House delegation, Republican and Democrat, who may seek statewide office in 2002. “When he goes one way or the other, the smaller dominoes will fall.”

The maneuvering inside the nine-member Tennessee delegation underscores the potential for a wave of House retirements next year in a convergence of political ambition, once-a-decade congressional redistricting, self-imposed term limits and advancing age.


“We see this every 10 years,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House GOP campaign committee. “A lot of districts will have a lot of new territory, and we think this is a time when a lot of older members will see this as a good time to retire.” In addition, he said, “we always lose people” who decide to run for statewide office.

“In every redistricting year, there will be more open seats, and there will be more open seats on both sides of the aisle,” agrees Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).

There were 40 retirements in 1982, the first election after the 1980 redistricting, and that total was equaled only once in the ensuing four elections. The 65 voluntary retirements in 1992 dwarfed the number in any other election cycle in the 1990s.

Republicans say redistricting will favor them; Democrats counter that the net effect could be negligible. But both parties agree that a spike in retirements in 2002 would lead toward a costlier, more complicated campaign than in November, when scarcely 40 seats were competitive.

For now, with the current Congress only 6 weeks old, the retirements are adding up.

Two Republicans who have announced plans to leave the House--Reps. John Cooksey of Louisiana and Dan Miller of Florida--cite self-imposed term limits, although Cooksey is expected to run for the Senate.

Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida will step down, in part because he is term-limited as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But he could leave before his term expires if President Bush taps him to become CIA director.


Among Democrats, Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, whose state loses a seat in redistricting, announced recently he would retire, citing a desire to spend more time with his young children.

In Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Tommy G. Thompson resigned recently after 14 years to join Bush’s Cabinet, Democratic Rep. Thomas M. Barrett is looking at a race for governor. “There’s a lot of pent-up ambition on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

With 36 gubernatorial races on the ballot next year, the situation is replicated elsewhere.

Democrats Rep. John Elias Baldacci of Maine, Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey may also run for governor, as well as Republicans John R. Thune of South Dakota and Steve Largent of Oklahoma.

So too might Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the second-ranking Democrat in the House and a perennial Republican target whose district will be altered significantly.

Other lawmakers may find their careers affected more directly by redistricting.

For example, Republicans control the reapportionment process in Pennsylvania, a state that will lose two House seats. Some GOP officials look forward to forcing incumbent Democrats to run against one another in the Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh areas, a situation that might make retirement seem attractive to one or more incumbents.


In Tennessee, Ford is one of several House members looking beyond the House.

The 30-year-old, who flirted with a 2000 Senate race two years ago before running for reelection to the House, says he would look again if Fred Thompson gives up his seat to run for governor.

Rep. Ed Bryant, a Republican, was more emphatic. “I would run for the seat” if Thompson doesn’t.

Democratic Rep. Bob Clement is seriously looking at making a race for Tennessee governor. “That decision has not yet been made,” he said. In addition, Republican Rep. Van Hilleary and Democratic Rep. John S. Tanner have been mentioned as potential candidates for statewide office.

In South Carolina, GOP Rep. Lindsey O. Graham plans to give up his House seat to run for the Senate seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond. Others will do likewise in North Carolina if GOP Sen. Jesse Helms steps down.

In Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Max Cleland is expected to run for reelection, the roster of potential Republican challengers is a long one.

“Obviously any time you have an opportunity that presents itself . . . everybody across the state of Georgia looks at it,” said Rep. Saxby Chambliss, although he quickly added he’s “not concentrating” on a Senate race.