Two veteran California congressmen announced their retirements in recent days as the fallout from the state’s new redistricting process continues to rattle the nation’s largest congressional delegation.
Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and Wally Herger (R-Calif.) — with a combined 50 years of incumbency between them — both announced they would retire rather than run for re-election in 2012. Gallegly bowed out over the weekend rather than face the prospect of running against a fellow Republican incumbent; Herger, 66, declared Tuesday that even though his district was still reliably safe GOP terrain he would give up the seat to spend more time with his family.
The retirements come as House leaders are closely monitoring several other longtime California lawmakers for their next moves. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R), the 17-term incumbent who oversees the Pentagon’s budget and once chaired the entire House Appropriations Committee, denied a report that he planned to retire at the end of 2012. His office, howver, suggested that an announcement on his decision could come next week.
And Rep. David Dreier (R), chairman of the influential Rules Committee and close ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), continues to be without a political parachute after redistricting carved up his region so severely that his only options are to retire or run a long-shot bid against a Democratic incumbent.
Three veteran Democrats, Reps. Dennis Cardoza, Rep. Bob Filner and Lynn Woolsey, announced last year they would retire after nearly 50 years of combined service.
The tumult inside the nation’s largest congressional delegation was largely precipitated by a law that created an independent citizens commission to draw up the state’s 53 House districts without any regard for protecting incumbency. The group did precisely that.
“The new redistricting process caused a level of chaos in the delegation that California hasn’t seen before,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. In the last three election cycles, as the rest of the nation saw incumbents tossed out and the House majority flipped twice, California was a steady force: Just one district switched hands from one party to the other.
The current make-up of the state’s delegation has 34 Democrats and 19 Republicans. According to Gonzales, 30 of the new seats are rated safe for Democrats, 12 safe for Republicans and 11 are considered competitive. Depending on the political winds in the fall, one side or the other could pad its margin considerably and affect which party controls the House; currently there are 242 Republicans, 192 Democrats and one vacancy.
If Lewis, 78, and Dreier, 59, both retire, Republicans hope to hey would then avoid a bitter member-versus-member primary between Reps. Ed Royce and Gary Miller in the suburbs south of Los Angeles. This scenario would have Miller move into the district vacated by Lewis.
California Democrats also face a pair of tough primaries involving incumbents, including another veteran lawmaker with vast influence in the chamber. Rep. Howard Berman, 70, a 29-year veteran who is the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, is running against Rep. Brad Sherman (D), first elected in 1996. And in a new south Los Angeles district, Rep. Laura Richardson (D) is running against Rep. Janice Hahn (D).
Relative newcomers to the delegation, both Richardson, in 2007, and Hahn, in 2011, came to the House in special elections that involved bitter primary fights along ideological and ethnic lines.