WASHINGTON -- Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), a onetime western wear haberdasher who rose to become chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, is expected to announce Thursday that he will retire after more than two decades in Congress.
His departure would further diminish the state’s clout on Capitol Hill, at least in the short term, and set the stage for a competitive race to choose his successor.
He will become the third California congressman to head for the exits when his term expires, a Republican source said, further shaking up a California delegation that built up influence on Capitol Hill because of its stability over the years. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), dean of the delegation, this week announced that he would retire when his term expires, ending a 40-year career in a chamber where seniority still matters.
Last year, 14 California freshmen took office, changing the face of the state’s 53-member House delegation, after the defeat or retirement of a number of veterans, including two committee chairmen.
Just a few years ago, Californians chaired six House committees, more than any other state. Today, they chair three, while lawmakers from longtime rival Texas hold five gavels, more than any other state. However, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield serves as majority whip, the No. 3 Republican leadership post.
Republicans hold an edge with 39% to Democrats’ 35% in registration in McKeon’s district, where Republican Mitt Romney narrowly defeated President Obama in the 2012 election despite the Democratic win statewide.
State Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and former state Sen. Tony Strickland, both Republicans, have said they planned to run if McKeon retired. Several Democrats — including Lee Rogers, a podiatrist who ran against McKeon in 2012, and Evan Thomas, a retired Air Force officer and test pilot — have signaled their interest in running.
The 75-year-old McKeon has chaired the Armed Services Committee since 2011, taking a leading role in fighting spending cuts to the Pentagon, but must give up the gavel after this term because of GOP term limits for its committee leaders.
McKeon, who has six children and 31 grandchildren, was Santa Clarita’s first mayor and a former co-owner of a chain of western wear stores before he was elected to the House in 1992. He served a stint as chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
He has been a conservative voice in Congress but has also worked with Democrats; he teamed up with liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in 2009 on legislation to designate thousands of acres in the Eastern Sierra and San Gabriel Mountains as wilderness.
Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) also has announced plans to retire when his term ends.