California Democratic Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod said Tuesday she would leave Congress after just one term to run for another office. Is Negrete McLeod abandoning her House seat to run for Senate or governor or some other major political prize? Nope. Negrete McLeod is leaving Capitol Hill to run for a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
Negrete McLeod isn't alone. She joins several California lawmakers who’ve recently decided to make lateral or, arguably, downward moves out of Congress. Whether they go back to California or stay in Washington, they’d rather be anywhere but Capitol Hill.
* In 2012, Rep. Bob Filner (D) left a two-decade congressional career behind and won election to be mayor of San Diego. (His tenure lasted less than a year; he resigned last August amid sexual harassment allegations and later pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and battery charges involving three women.)
* In 2011, Rep. Jane Harman (D) resigned from Congress to take over the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
* In 2009, Rep. Hilda Solis (D) left the Hill to become U.S. Secretary of Labor, an upwards move by most measures. But she left that post in 2013 and is now running for Los Angeles County Supervisor.
Further down in the Cabinet, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D) left the Hill in 2009 to become Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. And back in 2005, Rep. Chris Cox (R) left Congress to run the Securities and Exchange Commission.
None of these examples is quite like the other – Negrete McLeod, who is 72 and has a big family back home in California, barely stayed in Washington long enough to learn the quickest way to the House subway. Other Californians -- George Miller and Henry Waxman, to name two -- decamped after long careers. And, Congress isn't all that fun a place to be at the moment -- with record low job approval ratings and gridlock as the watchword. But many of them seem to share some frustration with the plight of being a lawmaker from California – a member from a massive delegation with plenty of people above you in the pecking order, a long flight home to the district and an obligation to raise money all the time in an exorbitantly expensive state in which to run for office.
As for using Congress as a launching pad to an inarguably higher office, well, it doesn’t happen much. Harman spent $14 million in a 1998 bid for governor and got just 12 percent in an open primary. The last sitting member of Congress to win the California governorship was Pete Wilson in 1990, and both of the Golden State’s Senate seats have been occupied since 1992. In a state as massive as California -- and with as many media markets -- any single Member of Congress is basically an unknown commodity statewide. Ambitious politicians in the Golden State are often far better off serving as a mayor or spending time in the state Senate (where you represent more people than you would as a member of Congress from California) than representing one of the state's 53 congressional districts.
So if you’re a member from California, you could stick it out and build a long and illustrious career. Or you could just decide the grass is greener in San Bernardino, no matter the job title.