Departing Members Plot Their Next Career Moves

Posted September 18, 2008 at 3:00pm

When the lights go off on this legislative session, Congress will lose eight cardinals on the House Appropriations Committee, at least two former presidential candidates, four women and the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico.

The crew of 41 exiting Members — who are retiring, pursuing higher office or lost a primary — is a diverse one. Their post-Congress plans are equally mixed. Some are considering posts in academia, while others are looking to lucrative K Street jobs. Others, who can’t quite shake the campaign bug, are mulling future runs.

“I’ll probably be watching every one of my grandkids’ games,” retiring Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) said.

While Tancredo may trade his Congressional seat for a seat in the bleachers, he won’t be on the bench long. The failed presidential candidate expects to use his free time to launch a group dedicated to tightening immigration laws, his marquee issue.

“I will be speaking to anyone who wants to hear about it,” he said.

Another one-time presidential candidate retiring this year is Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).

Hardly in his career’s twilight, 38-year-old Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) is stepping down after four terms. The three retiring Democrats are Reps. Bud Cramer (Ala.), Darlene Hooley (Ore.) and Mike McNulty (N.Y.).

“I just simply didn’t want to raise the money this year,” Hooley said.

An Energy and Commerce Committee member, Hooley is well- positioned for a consulting job. She said she is considering a handful of part-time offers, adding that, as a health care advocate, she will miss debating issues on the House floor.

“I don’t even want to talk about it because I want to do all that,” Hooley said, ticking off the handful of legislative issues, from energy to health insurance, that are likely to come up in committee next year. “Those are things I’m going to miss. I’ll just have to watch from the sidelines.”

The eight exiting members of the House Appropriations Committee include 18-term Republican Rep. Ralph Regula (Ohio) and five-term Democratic Rep. Tom Udall (N.M.). Regula, 83, will retire to his 200-acre farm outside of Canton and perhaps join the faculty of an area college or university. Udall, meanwhile, is focusing on his Senate race in New Mexico, where he hopes to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici (R).

House Members seeking higher office include Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-Puerto Rico) and Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), who hopes to take over the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, maintains he won’t make any plans until after he officially leaves his Congressional post. But that doesn’t keep the appropriator from offering hints at what he’s considering.

“I think people in the [Illinois] Republican Party believe they need a strong candidate to go for governor, and I can’t tell you how many people have encouraged me to look into it,” LaHood said. “I’m going out on top, and there’s something to be said for that.”

Like LaHood, fellow Appropriations Committee member Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) wants to return to his district, but not to lay the groundwork for a future campaign.

“I don’t want to be chasing votes this fall, I only want to be going after ducks,” said Walsh, a hunting enthusiast.

Walsh pointed to his tenure in local, state and national politics and on the Appropriations Committee as useful highlights in his job search. He has spoken with lobbying firms in Washington and New York and he was not coy to express interest in the private sector.

“There’s a lot of other aspects to lobbying and consulting that can be done,” he said. “I think I’d be foolish if I didn’t at least consider this.”

Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) is also considering the private sector in Washington or Florida. He’s reached out to the physicians in his former medical group and might shuffle between two jobs beginning next year, depending on salary packages.

“If I have to get on an airplane two or three times a month, and it pays well, then I’ll consider it,” he said. “Of course, I have to talk to my wife.”