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Congress losing several honorable lawmakers (reasons vary)

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Rory Ryan

By Rory Ryan
The Highland County Press

As of last week, a total of 50 members of Congress, including seven members of the U.S. Senate and 43 members of the U.S. House, have announced they would not seek re-election this year.

Notably, Ohio Second District Rep. Brad Wenstrup is among those lawmakers not seeking re-election. Rep. Wenstrup made his announcement last November to coincide with his son, Brad Jr.'s birthday.

"I work in a place where a lot of people want to be somebody; but a surgeon mentor of mine once said, ‘You don't have to be somebody somewhere else as long as you're somebody at home,'" Rep. Wenstrup said last fall. "Sadly, all too often, the frantic pace of Washington has kept me away from our home. I'm ready to change that."

Another doctor in Congress, Rep. Mark Green, M.D., recently announced that he also is not seeking re-election in his Tennessee district.

“In the last few months, in reading the writings of our Framers, I was reminded of their intent for representatives to be citizen-legislators, to serve for a season and then return home," Green said. "Our country – and our Congress – is broken beyond most means of repair. I have come to realize our fight is not here within Washington, our fight is with Washington. As I have done my entire life, I will continue serving this country – but in a new capacity.” 

Green is a doctor and retired U.S. Army major elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 to serve Tennessee's 7th Congressional District.

In January, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri announced his retirement from Congress. The Highland County Press has published "Blaine's Bulletins" for several years.

"I’ll turn 72 years old this year, and believe it or not, I have an identity outside the halls of power," Rep. Luetkemeyer said. "I might be 'Congressman' in D.C., but back in St. Elizabeth, Missouri, I’m simply 'Grandpa.' It’s one of the best titles I’ve ever had next to 'Dad' and the litany of labels my wife Jackie has invented over the years. I came to D.C. on a mission: To address the challenges families face – the conversations had around kitchen tables across the country. In my time, I have passed dozens of bills into law to help hard-working Missourians and Americans get a fair shot at the life they deserve."

Reps. Wenstrup, Green and Luetkemeyer are three of the most honorable and admirable members of Congress. I hate to see any of them leave, and I am initially suspicious of the qualifications and aspirations of some of those seeking to fill their shoes in the halls of Congress.  

Several lawmakers who are not seeking re-election have cited congressional dysfunction, from difficulty passing significant legislation to petty infighting, as a central reason for their departure.

"Right now, Washington, D.C. is broken,” Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said in a statement about her departure. “It is hard to get anything done.”

“The growing divide between Democrats and Republicans is paralyzing Congress and worsening our nation’s problems,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in announcing his retirement.

"This is the most unsatisfying period in my time in Congress because of the absolute chaos and the lack of any serious commitment to effective governance,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said.

Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said of Rep. Kildee: “A son of Flint, Mich., Congressman Dan Kildee has kept his hometown and the hard-working people of Michigan at the center of his career in public service. Dan has been a champion for working families in the Heartland and throughout America. Amid the horrific Flint Water Crisis, Dan worked across the aisle to unite Republicans and Democrats to deliver much-needed relief to his community. He will be greatly missed in the People’s House and the House Democratic Caucus."

It should be noted, too, that of the 43 House members not seeking re-election, only 25 are retiring from public office, including those four aforementioned lawmakers. Eighteen of the 43 House members are seeking other public offices.

For perspective, in February 2022, 42 U.S. House members announced they were not running for re-election. In February 2020, 35 members announced they were not seeking re-election. In February 2018, 44 members announced they were not seeking re-election. On average in the past 75 years, 34 House members did not seek re-election each cycle, according to Vital Statistics on Congress. 

While this year's number of lawmakers not seeking re-election seems on par with recent previous election cycles, I strongly suspect that some of the reasons for the decisions are different today.

Congress is not immune to society's current weakness in character and morals. As those societal frailties become more widespread – and more generally accepted by the mainstream media, many educators and public officials – they are bound to impact those elected to represent us.

Too many people have chosen to ignore the clear differences between right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust. Everyone is his/her/its own online platform, regardless of life experience, education, work history or community and military service. Too many who know nothing think they know everything.

These days, a loudmouth former bartender in Congress gets more free media publicity than a high-ranking member of the military with a medical degree and decades of private-sector business experience. While the former craves attention, the latter quietly seeks policy solutions.

It is no wonder good and honorable lawmakers are leaving Congress. Heaven help those elected to replace them – and Lord help us live with the consequences.

Until our society regains respect for a little old-fashioned common sense and stops indulging every temporary whim or cultural fantasy, I suspect the current dysfunction in Congress – and elsewhere – will continue. We'll have to bottom out before we see anything close to an improvement.

Just remember Thomas Jefferson's warning: We get the government we deserve.

Lately, we've been getting it painfully good, too.

* * *

• Lastly, for a bit of an HCP housekeeping issue, please let me address the publisher's note that recently was added to the end of many of our online stories – including this one.

Several readers have mentioned it. A few have contributed to our free website. One kind lady from Leesburg even included a nice letter, thanking us for publishing columns by Christine Tailer, Jim Thompson and others, while keeping the community informed.

As I've said before, I do not ever want to lock down our website and force users to go through a paywall. However, in the past three years, many small businesses – including this one – have been hit with ever-increasing operating expenses. 

Regardless of what Washington, D.C. says, this post-pandemic economy has been tough on small businesses, especially those (like ours) who refused to accept taxpayers' dollars through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). That was my decision then, and I stand by it. We are not getting in business with the federal government, nor are we accepting handouts that taxpayers ultimately fund. 

The Small Business Administration has released a list of businesses that have received emergency pandemic loans, and it's easily available online. The HCP is not on the list.

My staff and I greatly appreciate those who have made recent contributions to help defray expenses related to our free website, (Obviously, everyone knows our web address. I just added it here to amuse Jim Thompson, who recently told me not everyone knows we have a website. I told him if that's true, it is willful ignorance!)

Thanks for reading.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.

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••• Publisher's note: A free press is critical to having well-informed voters and citizens. While some news organizations opt for paid websites or costly paywalls, The Highland County Press has maintained a free newspaper and website for the last 25 years for our community. If you would like to contribute to this service, it would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be made to: The Highland County Press, P.O. Box 849, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133. Please include "for website" on the memo line.



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