Bryan Announces Senate Retirement
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 1999; Page A2
Sen. Richard H. Bryan (Nev.) yesterday became the third Democratic senator to announce he will not seek reelection next year, dealing another blow to the party's hopes of regaining control of the Senate in 2000.
"It's time to come home," the 61-year-old lawmaker told supporters at a news conference in Las Vegas. He has been in public service nearly all his adult life, Bryan said, and it is time to do something different, although friends say he has not decided what that might be.
Only the day before, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), 75, surprised colleagues by saying he would not seek a fourth term, explaining that he did not want to spend most of the next two years raising money. Earlier, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), 71, decided to forgo a bid for a fifth term.
Republicans have a 55-to-45 majority in the Senate but head into next year's elections at a disadvantage because they will be defending more seats than the Democrats, and many of these seats are held by first-termers who won by relatively narrow margins in the GOP sweep of 1994.
But the three pending retirements will make it harder for the Democrats to hold their existing seats. There have been no retirement announcements by Republicans, although Sen. Connie Mack (Fla.), third-ranking Senate Republican leader, has not said whether he will run again, stirring speculation in Florida newspapers about his intentions.
In recent years, Democrats have had more trouble than Republicans holding on to open seats, a major factor in the GOP's ability to keep control of the Senate. Democrats' "hopes of getting the Senate back are fading badly," National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said in a CNN interview yesterday.
Possible contenders for Bryan's seat include former governor Bob Miller (D), who left office in January, and former representative John Ensign (R), who came within several hundred votes of unseating Sen. Harry M. Reid (D) last November.
Joining Bryan at the news conference, Reid said the decision of his friend and colleague was "a loss beyond my ability to describe" for Nevada. "This is like a funeral to me," Reid was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Discounting speculation that Bryan may have been influenced by Reid's close call, Bryan associates said his decision was strictly personal. "He's been in public life nearly all his adult life. ... He's been on the ballot 20 times. ... It was a purely personal decision," one of them said.
"I close a career in public service with no regrets," Bryan said, adding that he would even miss the "banquet circuit." But "I have reached a time in my life that I want to be able to experience different challenges and opportunities." He was in good health, he said, and looking forward to spending time with three grandchildren who will be born later this year.
Bryan began his public career as a deputy district attorney and was appointed Nevada's first public defender in 1966. He was elected to the state legislature two years later, to the office of state attorney general in 1978 and to the governorship in 1982. He was elected to the Senate in 1988 and reelected in 1994.
In Washington, Bryan was generally regarded as a Democratic moderate. He has concentrated on efforts to keep Nevada's Yucca Mountain from being turned into a nuclear waste dump and on consumer protection, including legislation to require air bags in cars and to impose restrictions on telemarketing. He was also chairman of the Senate ethics committee during early stages of the inquiry that ended with the resignation of Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), who had been charged with sexual and official misconduct.
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