Just because their days in public office may be over, don’t expect former Members of Congress to go away quietly. [IMGCAP(1)]
That’s the message from many of the Republicans who were swept out of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. Whether they’re perched in positions of academia, headed for a more lucrative life on K Street or just getting back to business, they’ve still got a lot to say about party politics and America’s future.
But they also admit that there’s a certain adjustment to civilian life.
“I knew it would be a dramatic change,” said former Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa). “Both life in Congress had changed over my term of service and the life of Congress is abnormal, making it somewhat out of sync with America.”
Leach, who was the most senior House Member to lose in 2006, is serving as interim director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics for a year before returning as a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University.
From his current position, Leach largely has shied away from political activity, trying to operate as a private citizen for the first time in 30 years.
Leach says it was important for him to designate Capitol Hill off-limits during his first year out of Congress. “That’s more psychological than otherwise. I think it’s important to give some space and not hang on. You must transition fully,” he says.
But just because lawmakers leave the Beltway, it doesn’t mean they are easily able to escape the past.
After 30 years in state and federal politics, former Connecticut Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) was met with a rude awakening a year ago, losing to now-Rep. Christopher Murphy (D).
“I had 480 boxes that had to be disposed of,” Johnson said. “It was arduous because there was so much of it, but luckily I had people to help me with some of the routine stuff.”
The boxes provided a history for Johnson of her 24 years in the House, giving her a virtual tour of the work she had done writing bills on trade policy, foster care and child support enforcement, among other subjects.
But Johnson hasn’t been content to let her record on health care stop with her work in Congress. After spending a semester as a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics teaching a course on health care, she joined Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz’s Washington, D.C., office this summer as a senior public policy adviser.
In her new position, Johnson says she’ll largely be focusing on health care issues acting as a “public educator” to enact changes in what she sees as a system that urgently needs to be fixed. While she largely has stayed away from Capitol Hill because of the one-year ban under House ethics rules, Johnson has been involved on the campaign trail, endorsing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) for president.
As to whether she contemplates another bid for political office, Johnson, who is 72, remains steadfast.
“No,” she said. “I served 30 years in [office] between state Senate and Congress. I don’t have any interest in running again, nor does my family.”
Johnson isn’t alone.
“I think especially for the class of 1994, very few define success in life as staying always attached to Washington. The vast majority of ladies and gents who I came in with are doing other things,” said former Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R).
Hayworth, who lost in a bruising battle amid accusations that he was affiliated with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has gone back to his former profession as a broadcaster. He now hosts his own talk radio show on KFYI in Phoenix. The show, along with his position as a Citizen’s United’s First Reagan Fellow, has kept Hayworth politically engaged.
“My philosophy is the sign that I used to have up in my office —this seat belongs to the 5th district of Arizona. I was a steward for 12 years and I have every confidence that there will be another steward of that seat, if you will, following the 2008 election,” Hayworth said.
But don’t expect him to be that steward.
“You never say never,” Hayworth said. “I think it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to ever entice me to run for the House.”
Some former Members aren’t so turned off by the thought of returning to political office.
Despite losing in the 2006 election, former Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine (R) hasn’t ruled out getting back into public life.
“I intend to stay involved in politics,” he said. “I intend to run for office some day.”
DeWine is seen as a contender for the 2010 Ohio gubernatorial race. Until then, he’s teaching at Cedarville University and Miami University in Ohio. He also is working as an attorney at Keating Muething & Klekamp in Cincinnati. Part of his role now, he says, is training the future generation’s political leaders.
“I’ve told them a couple of things — finish their education, have a profession separate and apart from politics, and I’ve also told them to get involved in political campaigns.”
True to his own advice, DeWine’s staying active in the political circuit as head of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign in Ohio, as well as raising money for some of his former colleagues.
But trying to pin down his future political ambitions is far from easy. So far DeWine’s playing coy.
“It’s a little early to make any announcement,” he says.