Just twelve days into 2009, we already have four Senate Republican retirements, including two in the last week. And there may still be more to come. With Florida’s Mel Martinez, Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Missouri’s Kit Bond, and now Ohio’s George Voinovich all out, who’s next? My money is on Iowa’s Chuck Grassley. Let’s re-visit the prescient words of The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder from December 3, 2008:
But… more Republican retirements are expected, including at least two in blue states (Chuck Grassley of Iowa and George Voinovich of Ohio. (A Voinovich spokesperson denies the retirement rumor.))
Ambinder put those words out almost a month and a half ago. In fact, it’s particularly interesting that, after reporting that the retirements of both Grassley and Voinovich were “expected,” it was noted that a Voinovich spokesperson denied the retirement rumor. Of course, this suggests that Grassley’s office did not deny the rumor. Surely, Ambinder must have contacted both offices over the course of his research. Grassley’s office could have denied the rumor, but apparently chose to remain silent. Now, if Voinovich’s office went so far as to actively deny the rumor, despite the Voinovich retirement announcement now having come to pass, what should we make of Grassley’s silence? Maybe the Iowa media should be a little more tenacious in asking Mr. Grassley what he thinks at this point his 2010 plans will be.
Further, being a Senate Republican in an ever-weakening minority cannot be fun. I have not seen a single analysis of the 2010 Senate map that suggests that it favors Republicans, meaning that it is likely that Democrats will achieve a 60+ seat majority in 2010, further relegating Senate Republicans to the realm of powerlessness. Recalling a scene from Spring 2001, when then-Senator Jim Jeffords famously left the Republican Party, being out of the majority is something that deeply affects Grassley:
The mellower Republicans want to beat Jeffords about the head and neck with a semi-frozen flounder. For example, during his press conference, Jeffords admitted that the current chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley, “dreamed all his life of being chairman. He’s chairman a couple of weeks, and now he will be no longer the chairman.”
OK, I admit, it takes a very strange person to say as a small child, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.” Still, a dream’s a dream, and by tipping the balance of power to the Democrats, Jeffords snatched Grassley’s away from him. And, yet, if Grassley were to, well, you know, Grassley would be the one to go to jail.
With such a sizable Democratic majority in the Senate, Grassley must know that he’ll never be Finance Committee Chairman again. It will be several cycles, at least, before Senate Republicans even have a reasonable shot at getting back to 50 seats. Does Grassley want to spend another six years, including the first years of his 80’s, in a guaranteed minority in which the only question is whether or not the GOP could sustain a filibuster?
This passage from Voinovich’s retirement statement stood out to me:
In addition, Janet and I have concluded that once my second term is complete, we should devote ourselves to our children and grandchildren. We have been blessed with good health, but we’re no spring chickens. In 2010, I will be 74 years old and will have served 44 years in public office, having been elected to more public offices than any other person in Ohio history.
On Election Day 2010, Chuck Grassley will be 77 years old. If Grassley ran for and won another term, he would be 83 years old at the conclusion of that term. Grassley has a wife (his marriage to whom will celebrate its 55th anniversary in September) and five children, so who knows how many grandchildren. Grassley has been an elected official for fifty years (Iowa state House 1959-1974; U.S. House 1975-1981; U.S. Senate 1981-present). After having spent more than half a century as both an elected official and a family man, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he opted to give all of his time and energy to the latter designation after giving so much to the former.
I would imagine that spending your day playing with your grandchildren is a lot more enjoyable than spending your day waking up at 5am to catch a shuttle from Des Moines to Washington in order to take votes you know your caucus will lose, unable to make any progress on your desired agenda, and then staying up until midnight with policy meetings, political fundraisers, and personal fundraising calls that will all be in vain anyway given the relative weakness of your caucus’ minority.
Mr. Grassley, do you really want another six years of this?