Congressman Jerry Lewis to retire

Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, announced Thursday he will not run for re-election this year:

“After months of consultation with loved ones and family, my wife Arlene and I have decided to retire from public life. We are deeply grateful to so many who have provided their support over the years. I have worked hard to justify that support,” Lewis said in a written statement.

Lewis, who is serving his 17th term in the House, rose to prominence as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and chaired the panel in 2005. When Democrats regained control of the House, he remained the top Republican on the committee. But Lewis’ ability to steer millions of dollars in earmarks to businesses and local governments in his district attracted attention from federal investigators. No charges were ever filed, but law enforcement authorities did look into his ties to lobbyists, including former California Rep Bill Lowery, who represented various clients who received millions for federally funded projects.

After the GOP took over the majority in 2010, it banned earmarks. Because of internal party rules limiting tenure on top committee spots, Lewis would have needed a waiver to chair the spending panel again. Lewis remained on the committee as a senior member, but opted against a bid to lead it, perhaps recognizing the tea party fueled anti-spending freshman class elected that year might be skeptical of his reputation for doling out federal money.

In addition to Lewis, California Republicans Elton Gallegly and Wally Herger also said they won’t run next November. So far a total of five House Republicans and nine House Democrats are not running for re-election in 2012.

Lewis began his political career as a member of the San Bernardino School Board from 1964 to 1968 and worked on the staff of Congressman Jerry Pettis in 1966. He served as a member of the California State Assembly from 1969 to 1978. In 1974, Lewis ran in a special election for the California State Senate, but lost to Democrat Ruben Ayala.

Lewis is a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, and his 2008 ACU voting record 84 percent. Although he considers himself pro-life, Lewis supports stem-cell research.

Lewis was chair of the House Republican Conference from 1989 to 1992 and served as the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee during the 109th Congress. In the 110th and 111th, he served as Ranking Member on the committee. Though he sought the chairmanship again when Republicans regained control of the Congress in the 2010 election, it was instead given to Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky.

- JP

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