Rep. Henry Waxman announces retirement from Congress (Updated)
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection to the House this fall.
"In 1974, I announced my first campaign for Congress. Today, I am announcing that I have run my last campaign," Waxman said in a statement (see below). "I will not seek reelection to the Congress and will leave after 40 years in office at the end of this year."
Appearing on KPCC's Take Two, Waxman said, "This is a good moment to turn the job over to somebody younger who could develop seniority, take on the task of carrying on some of the fights that I have been involved in and are important to our community in Los Angeles."
During his long tenure in Congress, Waxman, 74, influenced policy on countless important issues — from telecom to tobacco. Paul Song, executive chairman of the California-based Courage Campaign, noted Waxman's role in "writing some of the nation’s first clean air laws, prosecuting the tobacco industry for deceptive practices, [and] helping to write and pass the Affordable Care Act."
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at USC's Price School of Public Policy, said Waxman's announcement was “totally out of left field.”
She said for a long time, Waxman “loved what he was doing.” But, noting that House Democrats are likely to remain in the minority next year, she added, if you look at “where Henry was in terms of power, his ability to move legislation, it's less of a surprise.”
Waxman echoed those sentiments in his Take Two interview. "We're going through a difficult time now in Congress," he said. "It's quite dysfunctional, because the Tea Party Republican extremists have taken over, and their view is compromise is a dirty word.
"The Republicans at the moment want to say no to everything that President Obama wants, just because it's Obama. That doesn't make sense to me. It's unfortunate."
Waxman's announcement caught at least the spokesman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by surprise. As to who might be the Democratic candidate on the ballot in the 33rd district, Matt Inzeo said, "We're still figuring it out." But he predicted it will be a long ballot and an expensive race. "There's 40 years of pent-up ambition," he said, "and all the money in the world."
RELATED: Reactions to Waxman's announcement
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime friend of Waxman's, said in a statement that he was "stunned and saddened to hear the news from Henry on his intended retirement." The two have "worked together on veterans issues [and] health programs," Yaroslavsky said, and it's been a "long, close political" relationship. "It really is the end of an era." He called Waxman "one of his closest allies in Southern California politics for many decades."
Yaroslovsky, who is termed out from his county seat this year, told KPCC's Larry Mantle that he hasn't had time to think about running for Waxman's seat.
"My main concern is that I want this seat to remain in the hands of progressive Democratic representation," Yaroslavsky said. "If we can't elect a progressive Democrat from this district, then we're in trouble."
Waxman's decision is sure to set off a scrum of possible candidates for the Westside seat that is safely Democratic. In his statement, Waxman said he would prefer a successor "who is young enough to make the long-term commitment that’s required for real legislative success."
Speculation was rampant in L.A. political circles Thursday morning. Two names that came up were former state legislator Sheila Kuehl and former Santa Monica city councilman and mayor Bobby Shriver, who are running for Yaroslavsky's county supervisor seat. But both candidates said Thursday morning that they are sticking with their plans.
State Senator Ted Lieu of Torrance is considering a run. Lieu, whose senate district includes more than 80 percent of Waxman’s, said he will announce his intentions on Friday.
State Assemblyman and former Santa Monica mayor Richard Bloom also said Thursday that he is considering a run for Waxman's seat.
Another name that surfaced is attorney and women's rights activist Sandra Fluke. "I’m flattered that I’m being discussed as a potential candidate," she told KPCC. "A number of folks I respect very deeply have reached out today and encouraged me to run. I am strongly considering running."
Fluke, 32, became known in 2012 when — as a Georgetown University law student — she testified on Capitol Hill that insurers should provide no-cost contraception. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh later called her a "slut" and a "prostitute" on air, triggering a media firestorm. Fluke, who grew up in Pennsylvania, has only lived in L.A. since finishing law school.
New Age author and self-help spiritual guru Marianne Williamson had previously announced her run for Waxman's seat as an independent. She posted a statement on her website that says: "I congratulate Congressman Waxman for his years of outstanding service in the United States Congress. He has made his mark in areas ranging from public health to the environment to consumer protection, and I join many around the country today in expressing my respect."
Also in the race is Brent Roske, producer of the web series "Chasing the Hill," which is about a fictional candidate from California running for Congress. Roske is running as an independent.
In his last election, Waxman defeated businessman Bill Bloomfield by 54-46 percent. Bloomfield, a former Republican, ran as an independent and spent $6 million of his own money on the race. The district, which runs along the coast from Malibu to Manhattan Beach, was redrawn before the 2012 election.
Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Waxman's heavily-Democratic district hasn't attracted any GOP candidates, at least "not at this point." Speaking at the Republican House retreat in Maryland, Walden added that California's so-called "jungle primary"— in which the top two primary candidates advance to the runoff regardless of party — presents "some peculiarities that can play out." Walden said the NRCC will take a second look at the seat now that the incumbent won't be on the ballot.
Waxman's departure is the latest in a string of senior members of Congress from California who are leaving after this term, including "Buck" McKeon of Simi Valley, George Miller of the Bay Area and John Campbell of Irvine.
California Congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement about her colleague:Read Waxman's full statement on his departure below: This story has been updated.