Louisiana Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander announced his retirement on Tuesday. Aside from roiling the political world by switching from Democrat to Republican during his first term in Congress in 2004, Alexander isn't exactly a high-profile Member of Congress and his retirement barely registered even for many political junkies.
But, maybe it should have. Check out what Alexander, who is, don't forget, a member of the majority party in the House, said in a statement explaining his decision:
"Rather than producing tangible solutions to better this nation, partisan posturing has created a legislative standstill. Unfortunately, I do not foresee this environment to change anytime soon. I have decided not to seek reelection, so that another may put forth ideas on how to break through the gridlock and bring about positive change for our country.”
Wowza. That's a shockingly blunt assessment of the current political landscape by a sitting Member of Congress. (Typically when Members retire it's to spend "more time with their family" or some such.)
Alexander's statement boils down to this: Congress isn't a very fun place to be and I am done with it. (One caveat: Alexander is mentioned as a potential candidate for the open Louisiana governor's seat in 2015 and he left that door wide open in interviews on Tuesday. UPDATE, 1:30 pm: Alexander is expected to take a job in the administration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal later today.)
Alexander isn't the first politician -- or even the first Republican politician -- to cite frustration with how Congress works (or doesn't) in announcing their decision to retire.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss called it quits earlier this year, explaining: "I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon." When she stunned the political world by retiring in 2012, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe explained that "I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term."
There's no question that neither the House or Senate is a fun place to be at the moment. Approval of Congress is at record lows, productivity -- in terms of passing bills -- has tanked and relations between the White House and Congress aren't terribly collegial.
Alexander's retirement -- or, more accurately, his explanation for why he's leaving -- raises the possibility that we could have a number of other House members follow his lead, people sitting in safe seats who decide it is simply better to do anything else rather than serve in Congress.
To date, there's little evidence of a rush to the exits in the House, however. Fourteen Members -- five Democrats, nine Republicans -- have announced their plans to move on from the House at the end of the 113th Congress. And all of those retirees with the exceptions of Alexander, California GOP Rep. John Campbell and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are running for higher office, meaning they may be sick of serving the House but not of being in government.
That pace of House retirements is broadly in keeping with historical trends. Over the last five elections, an average of 28 House members have retired. We haven't seen a large-scale set of retirements since way back in 1992 when 65 House members retired, although that number was heavily influenced by the 1991 redistricting process.
On the Senate side there is some evidence that its current state is driving more members into retirement. Already seven Senators -- two Republicans, five Democrats -- have said they won't run again in 2014. Although it's only the summer of the off year, those seven retirements are already more than the number of Senators who retired in the 2006 or 2008 cycles.
Congressional recesses -- like the current five-week long respite Members are taking from Washington -- tend to be times when elected officials huddle with their families and take the temperature of their constituents, returning to Washington with minds made up about their futures.
Watch what happens when Congress gets back to D.C. after Labor Day. If you see a series of unexpected retirements from safe members, it's possible that we might look back at Alexander as the leading edge of a trend.