Rep. Henry Waxman, a Los Angeles Democrat, announced he's retiring after 20 terms in Congress. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rep. Henry Waxman, a Los Angeles Democrat, announced he’s retiring after 20 terms in Congress. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The shake-up in California’s congressional delegation continues. This morning, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, 74, of Los Angeles, announced that he won’t seek re-election this fall after 20 terms in Congress.

With Waxman’s announcement, four of the state’s 53 House members have announced they’re retiring after the current session of Congress. Rep. George Miller, like Waxman an influential liberal Democrat, announced earlier this month that he won’t seek re-election. Miller and Waxman were both first elected to Congress in 1974.

Two Southern California Republicans, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of Santa Clarita, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. John Campbell of Irvine have also announced they’ll give up their seats.

In a statement, Waxman said:

“I first ran for office because I believe government can be a force for good in people’s lives. I have held this view throughout my career in Congress. And I will leave the House of Representatives with my conviction intact. I have learned that progress is not always easy. It can take years of dedication and struggle. But it’s worth fighting for.

“My parents were scarred by the Great Depression and as a result they were ardent Democrats. They believed in the ideals of this wonderful country and made sure that I had the opportunity to be the first in the family to get a college education. They taught me that the special interests have plenty of advocates; It’s the poor, the sick, and the powerless who need a champion in Congress. And that’s what I’ve strived to be.

“I take pride in my legislative accomplishments.”

As the Los Angeles Times recounts this morning, laws that Waxman wrote have had a wide impact in American life:

In a 2008 speech, Rep. Jan Schakowsky. D-Ill., delivered a speech illustrating the breadth of Waxman’s legislative achievements.

Holding up a bag of potato chips, Schakowsky said, “There is a nutrition label on the bag that we all know and take for granted. Henry Waxman wrote the law that puts these labels on the bag.”

Lifting a bottle of pills, she said, “Henry Waxman wrote the law that created the generic drug industry.” Then displaying an apple, she said, “Henry Waxman wrote the law that removed dangerous pesticide from apples and other foods.”

Waxman also led a high-profile campaign to expose tobacco industry marketing practices; has long fought for expanding public health coverage and was a major supporter of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act; was an author of the federal Clean Air Act and a leading voice for the government to take action on climate change; and even led hearings into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

His statement indicated he’s not pleased with the ideological polarization in the House today — a state of affairs perhaps best illustrated by House Republicans’ attempt to curb the new health care law last fall, a moved that led to a 16-day shutdown of the federal government. But Waxman said that’s not why he’s leaving Congress:

“There are elements of Congress today that I do not like. I abhor the extremism of the Tea Party Republicans. I am embarrassed that the greatest legislative body in the world too often operates in a partisan intellectual vacuum, denying science, refusing to listen to experts, and ignoring facts.

“But I am not leaving out of frustration with Congress. Even in today’s environment, there are opportunities to make real progress. Last Congress, I worked with Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate to pass legislation that will ease the nation’s growing spectrum shortage, spur innovation in new ‘Super WiFi’ technologies, and create a national broadband network for first responders. Just last year, I worked on a bipartisan basis to enact legislation strengthening FDA’s authority to stop dangerous drug compounding and to track pharmaceuticals through the supply chain.

“And I am not leaving because I think House Democrats have no chance to retake the House. House Republicans have no compelling vision for the future. The public understands this, and I am confident that the Democrats can regain control of the House.

“The reason for my decision is simple. After 40 years in Congress, it’s time for someone else to have the chance to make his or her mark, ideally someone who is young enough to make the long-term commitment that’s required for real legislative success. I still feel youthful and energetic, but I recognize if I want to experience a life outside of Congress, I need to start soon. Public office is not the only way to serve, and I want to explore other avenues while I still can.”


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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