PAINESVILLE: Frustration with partisan gridlock in Congress that has blocked enactment of everything from a deficit reduction package to a long-term transportation bill prompted Bainbridge Township Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette’s decision to leave office when his ninth term ends in January.
“For a long time now, words like compromise have been considered to be dirty words,” he told a crowd of reporters and supporters Tuesday at his Painesville congressional office. “I’ve always believed … that the art of being a legislator is finding common ground.”
LaTourette did not anoint a preferred successor or say what his plans will be after leaving Congress.
The former Lake County prosecutor’s departure will diminish Ohio’s clout in Congress and add to the ranks of moderate politicians, like Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who are fleeing Washington’s hostile political climate.
It will also set up jockeying within the Republican Party for a chance to fill LaTourette’s spot on the November ballot. GOP leaders in his district’s seven counties — Ashtabula, Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga, Summit, Portage and Trumbull — will meet in August to select his replacement on the ballot.
LaTourette said he filed his re-election petitions this year fully intending to run and win a 10th term. But his frustration has been festering. He was particularly upset that the House failed to pass a new highway infrastructure bill and that the two parties have been unable to reach a deal on deficit reduction, a reality he said “propelled” his decision to retire.
“We are a hiccup away from being Europe,” he said. “We’re a hiccup away from being Greece.” He said now was a time when politicians should stand up and say, “I may lose this next election, but we gotta get this right.”
Those expecting fireworks from a congressman known for an irreverent streak were treated instead to a somber, reflective tone. But the underlying message had the unmistakable feel of a moderate politician eulogizing political pragmatism in Washington.
“The time has come for not only good politics but good policy,” said LaTourette, who spoke softly even as he delivered some biting critiques. “And I have reached a conclusion — that the atmosphere today and the reality in the House of Representatives no longer encourages the finding of common ground.
“So here’s the thing. For a guy like me, and I think any elected official at any level, the balance always has to be between the privilege of the job you have been entrusted with and the cost on the personal side.
“And as long as the privilege and your ability to make a difference outweigh missing a soccer game, missing a concert, not being there when someone takes a first step, as long as that balance tilts in the favor of having the chance to do those things, you continue to serve.”
LaTourette said he was disappointed that word of his retirement leaked in advance. He stressed that he isn’t ill, and he disputed media reports that said he was upset with his committee assignments or feuding with House Speaker John Boehner, with whom he remains close.
But he was critical of the partisan tone in Congress.
“The expectation is if you want to go up in the ranks of either party, you have to give them your wallet or your voting card,” he said. “The overwhelming criticism of me over the years is sometimes I vote funny, according to my party. And I’m not interested in giving them my wallet or my voting card.”
Boehner released a statement that called LaTourette “a close friend and an effective legislator who has served the people of Ohio with passion and unrivaled wit for nearly 20 years,” and said Republicans are “in good position” to retain his seat.
LaTourette’s departure means that Northeast Ohio will lose three of its representatives next year. Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland lost his March primary to Toledo’s Marcy Kaptur, and Democrat Betty Sutton of Copley Township will oppose Wadsworth Republican Jim Renacci in November. The races between incumbents were set up by a redistricting plan that pared the number of Ohio’s congressional seats because its population growth hasn’t kept up with other states.