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Joe Guzzardi: Congress to have several open seats this election year

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Posted: Saturday, February 22, 2014 12:00 am

The 113th Congress has seen more than its fair share of retirement and resignations. To date, 19 in the House — eight Democrats and 11 Republicans — and six in the Senate — four Democrats and two Republicans — have announced their retirements. Another nine have resigned, six from the House — two Democrats and four Republicans — and three from the Senate (two Democrats and one Republican).

Not surprisingly, California, the largest state, also has the most representatives stepping down: six.

Earlier this week, Gloria Negrete McLeod joined George Miller, Gary Miller, Henry Waxman, Howard McKeon and John Campbell in their decisions to hang it up when their current terms end.

Political pundits are having a field day analyzing how the absence of 33 incumbents will effect the 2014 mid-term election. In California, the suddenly open seats may contribute to a major shift in its electorates’ leanings. According to voter registration data released by the Secretary of State, California’s Republican and Democratic parties are rapidly losing enrollments while the numbers of independents are on the rise.

Democrats continue to dominate among California’s registered voters, with nearly 44 percent. Four years ago, Democrats had 45 percent of the total. Republicans, at 29 percent, have dropped two percentage points since 2010. On the other hand, independents, often officially referred to as “no party preference,” increased to 21 percent since 2010. The registration report reflected the total as of Dec. 31, 2013, just 154 days before the June primary.

Whether the slight shift away from the Democratic Party may give the GOP hope that it could regain its status as viable opposition is still a long shot. As hard as it is to imagine today, from 1952 when Presidential Dwight Eisenhower carried California through 1988 when the state went for George W. Bush, California voted for a Republican in nine of 10 elections. The exception occurred in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a landslide.

California’s biggest problem with elections is that, as the Secretary of State report also revealed, about 24 million eligible adults aren’t registered to vote and many among the 18 million who are registered don’t vote. The California Voter Foundation’s survey found that non-voters are disproportionately young, single, less educated and more likely to be an ethnic minority than infrequent and frequent voters. Discouragingly, the most frequently cited reason for not voting is, despite the availability of early voting or absentee ballot, “too busy.”

Getting back to the heavy congressional turnover rate, the retirees offer various reasons for their departure. Some, like Michigan Sen. Carl Levine, 79, are elderly and have served multiple terms. Others want to run for another office.

My own theory is that while working in Congress pays well with a base salary of $174,000 and offers great 401(k) and health care benefits, the job is thankless. With the public’s disgust over Congress’s job performance at a historic low 10 percent approval rating and with Capitol Hill in terminal gridlock, many worn-out members must wonder why they beat their heads against the wall.

After all, most are doctors, lawyers or successful business entrepreneurs who have transferable skills. Once out of Congress, the luckiest of them may land the biggest plum — getting a job as an influence peddling K Street lobbyist.

Joe Guzzardi has been a Republican, a Democrat and is now a registered Independent. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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