Congressman Dennis Ross announced last week that he was joining the ranks of lawmakers headed toward the exit on Capitol Hill. The Lakeland Republican, first elected in 2010, is among at least 38 GOP lawmakers in the House who have said they won’t seek re-election this year.
We want to express our appreciation for Ross’ work in Washington for Polk County and the 15th Congressional District, which also encompasses parts of Hillsborough and Lake counties. We especially commend his staunch advocacy for the citrus industry, and for his efforts to combat the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach, especially in the health insurance and financial services industries. We also applaud Ross’ work to overhaul our seriously outdated flood insurance program, which affects Floridians more than residents of any other state, and which is seriously in need of free-market reforms to reduce taxpayers’ exposure.
But we have one more reason to be grateful for Ross’ departure: the fact that he’s leaving.
Nearly 40 Republicans indicating that they don’t want to come back is newsworthy because, according to the Pew Research Center, that’s the most GOP "retirements" since 1930.
What’s not getting as much attention, however, is that about half as many Democrats are also jumping ship. According to Pew, 17 Democrats so far have announced that they, too, won’t seek re-election this year.
Coupled with two resignations — one by a lawmaker from each party — after allegations of sexual harassment, that means 57 House members are stepping aside, Pew says.
That is 13 percent of the House, and, Pew reports, is the most since 1992 — when 65 lawmakers left.
Some of them might be back. Pew notes 20 of them left the House to seek a Senate seat. Still, the other 35 represent the most since 1996. That’s still a historically significant number.
Our interest is not why they left — although some observers believe the Republicans are fleeing the Trump administration’s controversies before the big, blue Democratic tidal wave drowns their careers on Nov. 6 and brings ashore a new Democratic House majority. Take these predictions with a grain of salt. After all, many of the same prognosticators guaranteed us Hillary Clinton would be president right now.
But whether or not that happens, we should welcome this bout of congressional churn.
That’s not to say we want Congressman Ross or Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican who represents southern Polk and who also has announced his retirement, to go home.
Yet like a farmer tilling dry, crusty soil to expose the earth to fresh rains and fertilizer, the departure of so many lawmakers all at once opens the hallowed halls of Congress to a host of people with new ideas and experiences.
Consider this observation by Pew: Michigan Democrat John Conyers, one resignation related to sexual misconduct allegations, had served 53 years in Congress. Another Michigan Democrat, Sander Levin, is leaving after 36 years. Two Republicans — Joe Barton and Lamar Smith, both from Texas — are exiting after 34 years and 32 years, respectively.
Congress itself is only 229 years old, and compared to them, people like Ross and Rooney, who has served 10 years, still seem wet behind the ears.
However the November elections turn out, the newcomers, hopefully, will spark new energy and outlooks on Capitol Hill. And we can credit folks like Dennis Ross and Tom Rooney who have recognized that a seat in Congress, unlike joining the federal judiciary, is not a lifetime appointment.