What is happening these days on Capitol Hill?
Since the beginning of July, three House members have abruptly quit while another made a surprise announcement that he would not be running for reelection after all. No waiting around for the election for any of them; merely a simple and quick good bye.
In years past, members almost always gave a compelling reason for leaving office in the midst of a Congress. Sometimes, it was a campaign for higher office. Occasionally, it was a position in the administration or a prominent job in the private sector that lured them away. Or on the negative side, the eruption of a personal ethics scandal could readily necessitate the need for a quick getaway.
But never can this writer remember a time when there was such a flurry of resignations for reasons that basically seem nebulous.
Five-term Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan began the recent charge to the exits. The erstwhile 2012 Republican presidential candidate – whose campaign for the White House arguably peaked with a very modest 35-vote showing in the August 2011 Iowa Straw Poll – resigned his congressional seat July 6.
It followed a bizarre flurry of events that began when the McCotter campaign failed to file enough valid signatures to get on the primary ballot in his House district. McCotter first declared he would run a write-in campaign for renomination, but then dropped his reelection plans altogether and abruptly left Congress. McCotter intimated that his staff may have sabotaged him, and earlier this month four of his former staff members were charged with election fraud.
Four-term GOP Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky followed McCotter out the door. Davis had earlier announced his intention to retire at the close of his current term, but then suddenly quit Congress July 31 citing a family health issue.
The same day, nine-term Republican Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio held a press conference to say that he was dropping his reelection bid. LaTourette had run unopposed in the state’s March primary and was on course to easy reelection. But out of the blue, he announced his retirement at the end of the current term, citing his distaste with Congress’ partisan gridlock for his change of heart.
The urge to bolt Capitol Hill has also affected the Democrats. Like the Republican Davis, five-term Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza of California had planned to retire at the end of the year. But citing “increasing parenting challenges,” he changed that to an Aug. 15 resignation.
Cardoza is joining a law and lobbying firm. The future for the others is not so clear. But it is evident that dissatisfaction with Congress colored the decisions of some, with McCotter the most caustic in explaining his decision. “… For the sake of my loved ones,” he wrote, “I must ‘strike another match, go start anew’ by embracing the promotion back from public servant to sovereign citizen.” (The italics are mine.)
It is a sign of the times perchance, as well as a quite new and different strain of “Potomac Fever.”