Health Shuler ‘Retires’ After 5 Years in Congress
When I first heard news that Heath Shuler was “retiring” from Congress at the end of this term last night, my reaction was to scoff at the notion of someone “retiring” after a mere five years in a job. No, that’s just quitting, I noted.
But Josh Lederman’s piece for The Hill (“Rep. Shuler to retire, faced tough 2012 race“) points to some actually substantive matters.
One of the last remaining members of the Blue Dog Coalition, Shuler was hit by congressional redistricting that made his western North Carolina district much more difficult for a Democrat to win. The three-term congressman had been floated as a possible candidate for governor in North Carolina, but announced on Wednesday that he would not be running for that office.
First elected in 2006, Shuler built a brand as a fiscal conservative unafraid to break with Democratic leadership on issues of spending, voting against President Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill as well as healthcare reform.
Shuler won his 2010 reelection by eight points over Republican Jeff Miller in a district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried with a five-point margin over Obama in 2008. But after the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew the district by siphoning off Democrats and adding Republicans, he faced a much tougher reelection battle. Shuler already faced a primary challenge from Democrat Cecil Bothwell, a journalist and member of the Asheville, N.C., City Council. On the Republican side, the field is expected to be crowded and to include real estate investor Mark Meadows, prosecutor Jeff Hunt and 26-year-old businessman Ethan Wingfield.
Shuler dismissed the idea that increased partisanship on Capitol Hill had made it more difficult to be a member of the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, or that redistricting had forced his hand. “It only changed two points from where I was a year ago, and I won by 10,” Shuler said. “So 10 in the worst Democratic performance in history. So 10 minus two is eight.”
He becomes the 32nd member of the House to announce plans either to retire or to seek higher office. Twelve House Democrats, including Shuler, are retiring without running for another office, compared to six GOP members.
Dismiss it all he wants, the fact of the matter is that partisan control of Congressional District lines makes matters very difficult, indeed, for members of the party not drawing the lines. Further, by refusing to hew to the core principles of increasingly polarized Congressional parties, candidates like Shuler are in a no man’s land. Once upon a time, moderates like him were no only the norm in Congress but the glue that held it together and allowed it to function. Now, they’re viewed as a nuisance at best and traitors at worst.