Rep. Wally Herger (R-Chico) says he will retire at the end of his term. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais,…)
California's congressional delegation appears headed for its biggest change in years as a fifth member, veteran Republican Rep. Wally Herger of Chico, announced plans Tuesday to retire when his term expires.
The wave of departures comes as Capitol Hill watchers await an announcement by Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, 77, dean of the state's GOP delegation, on whether he will retire or run for reelection in a new district.
Herger's decision comes days after fellow Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley announced he would not be seeking reelection when his current term expires after the 2012 race. Both were elected to Congress in 1986 and are among a number of California House members confronted with unpredictable campaigns in new districts, drawn for the first time by citizens rather than politicians.
"New lines put stress on members," said John J. Pitney Jr., professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "If you're fairly far along in your career, you may be thinking of retirement anyway. This kind of stress may tip the decision toward the exits."
The retirements, along with the new political map that has created about a dozen competitive races in a state where one seat flipped between the parties in the last decade, could cost California political clout on Capitol Hill.
Herger is a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. The 66-year-old father of nine and grandfather of 11 said that he wanted to "focus on my family and enjoy spending time with my grandchildren before they grow up."
He endorsed GOP state Sen. Doug LaMalfa to succeed him.
Gallegly, 67, chairs the House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees immigration.
On the Democratic side, Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma and Dennis Cardoza of Atwater are retiring and Rep. Bob Filner of Chula Vista is running for San Diego mayor.
Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), the House Rules Committee chairman who, like Lewis, saw big changes to his district boundaries, has yet to reveal his plans. Lewis could announce his decision as early as next week.
Lewis, a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a 33-year House veteran, has drawn both praise and criticism for steering federal funds to projects in his district.
But with Republicans determined to reduce the federal budget deficit, opportunities to bring home special projects have diminished. Lewis also lost an effort to win back the Appropriations Committee chairmanship last year. And now, in the redistricting, he finds his Redlands home in a more Democratic district.
A crowd of politicians is waiting to see what Lewis decides before they determine what races they will enter.
A number of local Democrats already have expressed interest, most notably Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar.
If Lewis retires, a number of heavy-hitter Republicans could jump into the race, including state Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) and San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos. The seat also could be a potential landing spot for Rep. Gary G. Miller of Diamond Bar who, because of redistricting, finds himself pitted against fellow Republican Rep. Ed Royce. Miller was sitting on a $1-million campaign war chest as of September, an intimidating bounty for anyone considering challenging him.
Lewis also could also decide to run in California's Republican-friendly 8th Congressional District, which includes the high desert region snatched away from Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon and lumped together with Inyo and Mono counties, Yucaipa and a portion of Redlands
San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said he would run if Lewis opted out, and Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron and Assemblyman Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) also have their eyes on the seat. They are all Republicans.
Simon reported from Washington and Willon from the Inland Empire.