Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette’s decision to retire from the U.S. House means there will be even fewer moderates to work across party lines on the so-called fiscal cliff and other tax-and-spending issues.
“Words like compromise have been like dirty words,” LaTourette, 58, said yesterday in announcing he won’t seek a 10th House term.
He and two other lawmakers not seeking re-election in November, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are part of a shrinking band of lawmakers known for bucking party leaders and trying to seek compromise with opponents.
“The center is certainly greatly diminished,” said Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker. “In both parties the moderates lose by subtraction,” he said.
“It’s hard to imagine how” the legislative stalemate that produced the 2011 showdown over extending the government’s borrowing authority could be “more intractable than it is now,” Baker said. Still, he said, “barring an absolute blowout one way or another in the election, this is going to continue.”
Seven other moderate House Republicans -- Judy Biggert and Robert Dold of Illinois, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, Nan Hayworth and Chris Gibson of New York, Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and California’s Brian Bilbray -- are in danger of losing their re-election bids. Their races are rated either a tossup, leaning Democratic or likely Democratic by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Moderate House Democrats also are retiring or threatened with defeat at the polls. Dennis Cardoza of California, Jerry Costello of Illinois, Mike Ross of Arkansas, Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Heath Shuler of North Carolina decided not to seek re-election. Democrats Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah are in races rated tossups by the Cook report.
After Republicans took over the House in 2010, opposition from Tea Party-backed members made it harder for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to persuade his party to support proposals such as a farm bill or extensions of federal highway and transportation programs.
“Take away people like LaTourette” and “it is just going to be that much tougher for him” to pass legislation, Baker said.
LaTourette cited the difficulty of passing the highway transportation measure as one of his biggest frustrations in the current Congress at his news conference in Painesville, Ohio.
“There are people on the right and on the left who think that if you compromise you are a coward, you are a facilitator, you are an appeaser,” LaTourette said. With “very little opportunity” for compromise, he said he concluded “there are so many times you can run your head into a cement wall.”
“For a long time, words like compromise have been like dirty words,” he said, according to the Plain Dealer. “I always believed that the art of being a legislator is finding common ground.”
Snowe, 65, said she sympathized with LaTourette because “if you’re practical and pragmatic and you believe in the essence of public service, being problem solving, it is truly frustrating” to be in Congress. “Today it’s all about the political message,” she said.
Her decision to end a legislative career spanning four decades was also motivated by the “huge chasm between what people are facing at home” and “what we are able to address here to try to make it better,” Snowe said in an interview.
The legislative fights over the last two years “have been particularly difficult” for moderate Republicans like LaTourette, said Paul Beck, a political scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus.
Looming battles over averting $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts and whether to allow Bush-era income tax cuts to expire will “put moderates in both parties under great, great strain,” Beck said in a telephone interview. “The pressures on the Republican side are absolutely intense.”
“People who are in a party don’t want to be seen as not playing on the team,” Beck said. “On the other hand, the team asks them to do things that they are just very, very uncomfortable in doing.”
A total of 22 House Republicans and 28 House Democrats are retiring, lost primary bids or decided to run for different offices such as the Senate or a governorship.
Moderates aren’t the only ones retiring. Yesterday, Representative Geoff Davis of Kentucky resigned immediately to help address a “family health issue,” he said in a statement.
LaTourette represents a district that extends from the eastern suburbs of Cleveland eastward to the Pennsylvania line. Beck said that in 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain beat President Barack Obama by 700 votes out of 340,000 cast in the district. The district has been redrawn following the 2010 Census.
LaTourette’s decision not to formally withdraw his re-election candidacy until Aug. 8 will let party leaders choose a candidate without holding a primary election, Beck said.
Democrats may be able to make the race competitive if they can persuade their “very weak” candidate to step aside for a stronger challenger, Beck said.
Still, Dale Blanchard, the Democratic nominee, told the Youngstown Vindicator, “There is no way I’d ever get out of the race.”
Boehner, also an Ohio Republican, in a statement called LaTourette “a close friend and an effective legislator.” He predicted that “Republicans are in good position to hold this seat.”
The departure of LaTourette and others like him may make it harder for Boehner to remain speaker if Republicans keep their House majority in November, Beck said.
Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, a fellow House Appropriations Committee member, said he was “sickened by” LaTourette’s decision to leave the House because “we are losing a lot of good people that are legislators, not just ideologues.”
Simpson said he understood LaTourette’s frustration with the partisan gridlock, “People are just getting fed up,” he said.