Dreier, the chairman of the influential but low-profile Rules Committee, mounted a rare public defense of Congress on Wednesday in asserting that he and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had worked to reinstitute “regular order,” allowing each side more free-ranging debate than in the previous two decades.
“I am a proud institutionalist, and I believe that this institution is as great as it has ever been. . . . Both Democrats and Republicans can offer their ideas on the House floor,” Dreier said.
Unlike other retiring lawmakers who have denounced the seemingly endless gridlock in Congress — Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) cited unproductive partis
anship in her retirement announcement on Tuesday — Dreier would gladly stay on Capitol Hill if doing so were a viable political option. A close ally of Boehner’s, his clout is at its peak.
However, California’s once incredibly stable congressional delegation was scrambled by a law that created an independent citizens commission to draw up the state’s 53 congressional districts without any regard for protecting incumbency.
The group did that, and then some. Over the past decade, when three wave elections swept across the nation, the Golden State was a fortress for incumbency, with just one seat changing hands between the parties. Now, after redistricting, the Rothenberg Political Report rates 11 House races in California as competitive, not including a pair of contests in which Democratic incumbents are facing off in primaries.
Some incumbents moved to other districts near their homes, while others are involved in their first competitive race in years. Dreier’s 26th Congressional District, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains north and east of Los Angeles, was carved up in such a fashion that there was no political haven nearby, just heavily Democratic districts in every direction.
“David Dreier and Olympia Snowe retired for two completely different reasons,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, an independent political handicapper.
Before Dreier’s announcement, five other longtime California House members had said they would not seek reelection in November; another said he would run for San Diego mayor instead, and the rush to the gates began early last year when Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) announced her immediate resignation to lead a think tank.
By this year’s end, those eight lawmakers together will have accumulated more than 180 years of congressional experience.
Nationally, redistricting is spurring a large number of retirements; 21 House members have decided to retire from politics, according to the Casualty List blog maintained by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.