WASHINGTON — Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Roseville), who has been under scrutiny for his ties to a corrupt lobbyist, announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection in November.
A top Democratic target for defeat, Doolittle was under pressure to bow out of the race from GOP colleagues who have sought to get out from under an ethics cloud that contributed to the party's loss of its congressional majority in the 2006 elections.
Doolittle becomes the third veteran House member from California to announce that he would not seek reelection. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) was recently diagnosed with cancer, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is seeking his party's presidential nomination.
A prominent conservative, Doolittle served 10 years in the state Senate and has been in the U.S. House for 17 years, including a four-year stint in the GOP leadership as conference secretary. Although his district is solidly Republican, he narrowly survived a Democratic challenge in 2006 after coming under attack for his connections to now- imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff and for his wife's fundraising activities on his behalf.
Doolittle, 57, said Thursday that he had planned to run again "right up until recently," but that he and his wife, Julie, decided that "we were ready for a change after spending almost our entire married lives with me in public service.
"We are at peace with this choice and look forward to starting a new chapter in our lives."
The FBI searched the family's northern Virginia home last year, and members of Doolittle's staff were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
Doolittle has been battling prosecutors over access to his congressional records, which were subpoenaed in September by a federal grand jury in Washington. Doolittle has said that it could take a year or two to resolve the issue because basic questions of constitutional law and the separation of powers were involved. It is not known whether prosecutors think they can build a case against him or his wife based on the evidence gathered so far.
Doolittle's attorney, David Barger, said the congressman's retirement was not precipitated by any new action by the government in the case. "The status of the investigation has not changed," Barger said.
Doolittle has denied any wrongdoing. His wife's consulting firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., received about $67,000 from Abramoff's firm from 2002 to 2004.
Doolittle has called Abramoff a friend, accepted campaign money from him and used his suite at a Washington sports arena.
Julie Doolittle's fundraising activities helped spark legislation, passed last year by the House and awaiting action in the Senate, that would bar lawmakers from putting spouses on campaign payrolls. As a fundraiser, she took 15% of the campaign contributions she raised for her husband, once earning $90,000 from a single event.
Tom Hudson, Placer County Republican Party chairman, said he was sorry to see the congressman retire and thought Doolittle was getting a "raw deal" from an "investigation that goes on without end."
He said the inquiry probably contributed to Doolittle's decision. "I think over time, he's lost the love for the job," Hudson said.
"California's 4th Congressional District is a solid Republican district," said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, "and we are certain it will remain that way." The district extends from the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento to Oregon.
Within hours of Doolittle's announcement, former state Sen. Rico Oller, (R-San Andreas) announced his candidacy for the seat.
Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) also is considering entering the primary. Republicans Mike Holmes, a former Auburn mayor, and Eric Egland, a security consultant, have been raising funds to run.
Former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Sacramento) also is considering a run.
Democrats said they expected to compete vigorously for the seat, calling Democrat Charlie Brown, who narrowly lost to Doolittle in 2006, a "decorated, battle-tested combat veteran."
"It's certainly going to be a tough district, but it's a district we think we're very competitive in and can win, and yet another seat where Republicans are going to have to spend a lot of resources," said Doug Thornell of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.