Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) will retire from Congress at the end of his term and has announced a run for a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, according to John Sobel, the congressman’s chief of staff.
Cook is the first to announce his retirement in California’s Republican U.S. House delegation, which has been greatly diminished in recent years. In the 2018 midterms, Democrats took control of half of the 14 remaining Republican seats in California, which has a total of 53 congressional districts.
“Serving in Congress has been an absolute honor, and I’m proud of my numerous victories amid a tough partisan atmosphere,” Cook said in a press release. “Our high desert needs continued strong leadership at the county level, and I pledge to fight for this area with the same dedication and conviction I’ve demonstrated my entire career.”
Cook’s departure from the 8th Congressional District will mark the latest in a series of House Republican retirements as the lawmakers confront life in the minority. In all, more than a dozen GOP members have announced plans to leave Congress after 2020, including several in Texas.
Cook was mayor of Yucca Valley and served in the state Assembly before being elected to Congress in 2012. He plans to announce a run to represent the 1st District of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, a district that does not include his Yucca Valley home. Robert Lovingood, who currently holds the seat, recently announced he won’t seek reelection.
The four-term congressman is not the first to seek a return to local office after leaving Capitol Hill. In 2015, Janice Hahn announced she would leave Congress to run for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis was elected to the county board after eight years in Congress and a stint as U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Obama.
Republicans hold a lead of 4 percentage points in voter registration in the district, which stretches from Mono County to San Bernardino County along the Nevada border. But despite Democrats’ recent interest in making inroads in the district, it’s been long known as a deeply conservative area. President Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by more than 15 percentage points, besting Mitt Romney’s 2012 margin in the district, and Cook won his last reelection fight against a fellow Republican with 60% of the vote.
Cook, not known as a prolific fundraiser in Congress, was out-raised by Democrat Christine Bubser in the quarter ending June 30 — she brought in $204,800 to Cook’s $139,299. Bubser is the only Democrat who’d filed to challenge Cook in 2020.
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake), whose district overlaps with about two-thirds of the 8th Congressional District, is also expected to run for Cook’s seat. A campaign website paid for by Obernolte for Congress went live shortly after news of Cook’s announcement broke and featured Cook’s endorsement. A call to an Obernolte spokesman was not immediately returned.
A statement released previously by a spokesman for Obernolte praised Cook’s record of service and added that, “Should [Cook] decide to seek a different office,” Obernolte “intends to continue Congressman Cook’s advocacy.”
State Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), whose name was floated when Cook said he was considering retiring, said in a statement that she has “no plans to run” and “will continue fighting to make California affordable for families and businesses.”
Bubser campaign spokeswoman Andrea Rothschild said Cook “saw the writing on the wall,” adding that “we have no doubt the voters of this competitive district will reject the dangerous beliefs of career politician Jay Obernolte.”
Marge Doyle, the last Democrat to challenge Cook, took third place in the June 2018 primary with a little over half the votes Cook received, leaving voters to choose between two Republicans.
Earlier this month, Democratic Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) announced she would not seek reelection, creating a rare safe Democratic vacancy in Southern California.