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Sarbanes to retire after 18 years in Congress

Maryland Democrat says he may return to nonprofit work

Maryland Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes is not seeking reelection.
Maryland Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes is not seeking reelection. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Maryland Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, the son of a former senator, announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection to what would have been a 10th term in the House.

“Stepping away from Congress voluntarily — whether it’s at the eighteen-year mark as in my case or at any point — is not an easy thing,” Sarbanes said in a statement. “Because the stakes of what we do are so high and because we trust in our value to the team, the case can always be made to press on to the next election. Our country faces many challenges right now, but the Democratic caucus that will carry forward into the next Congress and beyond has a strength and unity of purpose that bodes well for the future.”

Sarbanes represents the 3rd District, which was previously represented by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who has also announced his retirement at the end of the current Congress. Cardin won the Senate seat that opened with the retirement of the congressman’s father, Paul Sarbanes. The district, in both its current and previous configuration, has not been considered competitive, with President Joe Biden winning by nearly 26 points in 2020.

In announcing his retirement plan, the younger Sarbanes highlighted the work of local leaders. He said he had been “wanting to explore the many opportunities to serve that exist outside of elected office,” including in the volunteer and nonprofit arenas. He could have been a potential Senate candidate in the open-seat contest to replace Cardin, but Sarbanes opted against entering the field.

“I am keenly aware that what makes the world go round is the unsung work of spirited leaders on the ground in every community,” Sarbanes said. “To those true movers and shakers who took the time and patience to connect me with the things that matter, thank you for your wonderful partnership! Our work together will continue.”

Sarbanes has been a leader among House Democrats on voting rights and campaign finance issues, and in his statement Thursday he noted that Democratic Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts will be taking over leadership of voting access legislation known as the Freedom to Vote Act in the next Congress.

“Our new leadership is making all the right moves to bring Democrats back into the majority in January 2025. It makes me hopeful about America’s prospects at this moment when I am pivoting in a new direction,” Sarbanes said.

Clark issued a statement praising Sarbanes’ leadership on “legislation to remove dark money from politics, strengthen ethics laws, ensure fair elections, and protect voting rights” and said she would miss him personally.

“I know that his achievements in Congress will continue to impact Marylanders — and Americans across the country — for generations to come,” she said.