At a point when the political punditocracy had been focused on the five Democrats who announced their exits from the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, Republican Rep. George Radanovich stunned pundits and pols last night when he announced his retirement from the Central California seat he has held since 1992.
The surprise decision by the conservative Radanovich (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 95%) means that so far, thirteen Republicans and ten Democrats will not seek re-election to the House in 2010.
But, as I learned from the congressman last night, his announcement has nothing to do with politics or what may happen in the midterm elections and is truly a personal one.
“My wife Ethie has been battling ovarian cancer for a few years now,” Radanovich told me last night, “She needs me more now, and my family is my most urgent priority.” The congressman added that he would begin moving his family from suburban Washington back to California next summer.
For me, George Radanovich’s announcement was a particular surprise because we had several long discussions last month about a book he was writing. The book is a short but very poignant tome on when, where and why America took what the author (and many conservatives) feel was the wrong turn. Of particular interest to me was his explanation of why private charities make a bad decision accepting tax dollars.
Writing the book, Radanovich told me, “was very cathartic for me.”
On the political front, the congressman has covered the bases. He plans to endorse friend and fellow conservative Jeff Denham in the June primary that is considered tantamount to election in the Fresno-based 19th District. State Sen. Denham is a farmer whose Atwater home lies just outside the district. But the U.S. Constitution does not require House Members to live in the districts they represent and in California this has never been a major issue in House races. Freshman Republican Rep. Tom McClintock and Democrat John Garamendi (who won a special election for a House seat in Northern California last month) both lived outside their districts when elected and voters knew it.
Another conservative Republican, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, had signaled earlier he might challenge Radanovich for renomination—not because he had any particular disagreement with the incumbent, local sources told me, but because he felt entitled to a seat in Congress. In 2002, Patterson began the race as the favorite in the neighboring 21st District but lost the primary to present Republican Rep. Devon Nunes in an upset.
Given all the rancorous debate on health care, I could not resist asking Radanovich whether he felt that a package backed by House and Senate Democrats could be stopped in Congress next year. In his words, “They will settle for anything and compromise to pass something, but we still have a chance. I say we have a 50-50 chance of defeating it.”