Dean of California Republicans in Congress to retire

LOS ANGELES Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:00pm EST

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Representative Jerry Lewis, dean of California's congressional delegation and the state's longest-serving Republican ever on Capitol Hill, said on Thursday he will retire at the end of this year after nearly five decades in politics.

Lewis, 77, is the latest in a parade of California lawmakers headed for the exits in 2012 after an overhaul of political boundaries in the state left many incumbents who had long held safe seats in both parties facing difficult or uncertain races in newly drawn districts.

Six of California's 52 members of the House of Representatives have recently announced they are declining to seek re-election when their terms expire this year. Half are Republicans and half are Democrats.

Lewis began his political career as a school board member in 1946 and has represented San Bernardino and Riverside counties east of Los Angeles for 33 years in Congress.

"After months of consultation with loved ones and family, my wife Arlene and I have decided to retire from public life," he said in a brief statement posted on his website.

Word of his imminent departure coincided with an announcement by the mayor of Redlands, California, Pete Aguilar, a Democrat, that he would run for Lewis' seat in the redrawn district encompassing California's Inland Empire area.

Lewis has been part of the Golden State's political scene since he was elected to the California Assembly in 1968, when Ronald Reagan was governor.

Lewis was first elected to Congress 10 years later, and made his biggest mark as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, becoming chairman in 2005, a post that allowed him to steer millions of dollars in federal spending to his district and California in general.

But Republican Party's recent emphasis on clamping down on federal spending has curtailed chances for Lewis to parlay his seat on the committee into largesse back home.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta)

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