Elder Members Aren’t the Only Ones to Retire

Miller announced her retirement in March. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Miller announced her retirement in March. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 13, 2015 at 11:30am

The usual way to identify potential House retirements is to pick out the oldest members of each caucus. But that strategy misses an entire crop of potential exits, because the most senior members aren’t the only ones to call it quits.  

When 88-year-old Michigan Democrat John D. Dingell retired from the House last year, after 29 terms, he didn’t catch a lot of people by surprise. New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel, 84, announced before the last election that this term, his 23rd, will be his last. And the only thing surprising about 77-year-old California Democrat Lois Capps’ retirement announcement last week was that it didn’t come sooner. Predicting which members might head for the exits for reasons other than age is much more difficult.  

Over the past four Congresses, dating back to 2008, nearly as many members in their 50s (23) retired as those in their 70s (25), according to a CQ Roll Call analysis. Thirty-four of the 93 House members who retired during that span were in their 60s.  

There are myriad reasons members choose to retire: a lack of opportunity to move up the leadership or committee ladder, partisanship of a district that leads to consistently tough re-election races, ethical screw-ups, being stuck in the minority, or feeling ideologically alienated in his or her own caucus.  

Members may also leave the Hill to cash in and pad their retirement accounts. More than 100 former members are registered lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics .  

There are even more potential reasons for leaving. Pennsylvania Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, 51, is leaving after this Congress because of a self-imposed four-term limit. New York Rep. Chris Gibson, 50, shocked everyone by announcing his retirement after only three terms; he apparently has his eye on running for governor in 2018 and believes leaving now is his best next step.  

Over the past eight years, the most common tenure of House service before retirement is between six and 10 terms, making Gibson and Fitzpatrick the exceptions rather than the rule.  

Using the past four cycles as a guide, those putting together retirement watch lists should at least glance at members between the ages of 58 and 65 who have served between six and 10 terms, because exiting representatives often fit within those parameters.  

For example, Michigan Rep. Candice S. Miller announced her retirement in March. The 60-year-old Republican is in her seventh term and fits neatly into the target ranges.  

Right now, the average member of Congress is 57 years old and starting his or her fifth term.  

For a list of nearly three-dozen members who fit the age and tenure parameters of recent, common retirements, as well as comments from former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, read “Looking for Retirements in All the Wrong Places ” in the March 20 issue of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report .  

While nailing down specifically who will retire can be difficult, we know from history that more retirements are on the way. Thus far, just five House members have announced they will not seek re-election or another office. From 1976 to 2014, the average number of House retirements per cycle was 22.  

Jay Hunter contributed to this report.

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