Evan McGlinn for The New York Times
The race for the exits is gaining steam in the United States House of Representatives.
Inside Congressional politics.
Thirty-two members so far have announced they have no intention of running again for their House seats in 2012, a considerable number at this point in the election cycle. And the total is almost certain to increase in coming weeks as the calendar forces lawmakers to make what can be an excruciatingly difficult decision about whether to give it another go in November.
Unlike Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, who announced her resignation Sunday, the other lawmakers will finish their terms but will not be on the ballot for the House. For those who have already announced their plans, the reasons are varied.
There is ambition for higher office. An unwillingness to deal with a new district reshaped following the decennial census. Age and health issues. The desire to try something new at a later stage in life. And finally there is the simple fact that some lawmakers have come to see Congress in general and the House in particular the same way much of the public does at the moment: as a dead end, riven by partisanship and hostility.
“The fact is, I could stay and collect a paycheck,” said Representative Jerry F. Costello, a veteran Illinois lawmaker with a low profile and a reputation for working hard on his committees. “But my nature has always been having a goal in mind and getting things done. In Congress, very little is getting done these days and I don’t see that changing in the near future.”
Mr. Costello, the Southern Illinoisan who is the dean of his state’s delegation due to his election in 1988, is somewhat unusual among the retirees this year since he was not caught in a redistricting squeeze even though Illinois lost a seat. Mr. Costello, in fact, was a Democratic point man in drawing the new maps in Springfield and his district remained favorable to Democrats despite some Republican advances in the area.
But redistricting is clearly a significant factor in spurring retirements – as it is every decade – and will probably claim more lawmakers in the next few months as they decide their redrawn districts are no longer as hospitable as they once were. Some House members who have already announced they would not seek re-election, like Representatives John Olver, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Steve Austria, Republican of Ohio, essentially found themselves without a district to run in.
Ohio lost two seats and Mr. Austria blamed Speaker John A. Boehner, his fellow Ohio Republican, for not standing in the way of a new map that threw him into a district with another Republican, Michael Turner, who held a decided advantage.
While many other lawmakers will end up with new districts where they still have a solid chance, they can find themselves without the motivation or inclination to court the tens of thousands of potential new constituents who are going to require some wooing.
“It is sort of like old dogs,” said David Wasserman, an analyst who follows House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “But instead of new tricks, there are new voters.”
Representative Barney Frank, the 71-year-old Massachusetts Democrat, said the fact that he would have to campaign for the affections of about 325,000 new constituents was part of his reasoning for deciding not to run, considering he was going to serve only one more term at most.
“It would have been difficult to go to these people in the new district and say, ‘Please elect me and I will be your advocate for two years,’” said Mr. Frank, who also said that given the Congressional gridlock, he now believes he can be more effective in politics outside of the House.
Redistricting years always fuel retirements and the 31 so far this year have already easily eclipsed the 18 retirements of 2002. A decade earlier, in 1992, a modern record year of 52 retirees was set after the eruption of the House banking scandal. Many members who had had bounced checks on the sloppily run internal bank were persuaded to get out before being pushed out by the voters.
Of those leaving this year, about half – 15 — are running either for the Senate, governor or another office. At this point, 18 Democrats have announced their retirements compared to 13 Republicans, and the loss of Democratic incumbents in conservative states such as Arkansas and Oklahoma could provide opportunities for Republicans.
Three veteran California Republicans earlier this month announced their retirement in quick succession, including two veterans who faced complications due to redistricting, Representatives Elton Gallegly and Jerry Lewis. Mr. Lewis, 77, is a former chairman of the appropriations committee who was known for steering dollars and defense projects to his state and district. California is expected to produce other retirements as a handful of lawmakers in both parties find themselves without their old districts or a clear path to re-election.
The departure of such old-school lawmakers as Mr. Lewis and Mr. Gallegly emphasizes another possible influence in the decisions of veteran lawmakers to retire – the new Republican majority in the House contains dozens of conservative newcomers who find some of the old ways of doing business in Washington anathema, clashing with their own colleagues as well as Democrats.
Given the prospect that the November elections are not likely to do much to reduce gridlock no matter which party gains, more lawmakers are apt to ponder their frustration and the shape of their new districts and decide that they have run their last House race.