After 40 years of representing Southern California in the U.S. House of Representatives, seasoned lawmaker Henry Waxman will retire from Congress at the end of his term in December.
Waxman’s office made the announcement at 8 a.m. on Thursday, and a host of lawmakers issued statements to wish the congressman well and thank him for years of policy-making in the healthcare, environmental, consumer protection and telecommunication arenas.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I was going to have a life after Congress, this is the time to do it,” Waxman said, adding that he will be 75 years old by the end of the year. He said it is time to let someone else take over the job and bring a different and fresh perspective. “I am hoping that it will be a Democrat. I expect a Democrat.”
The congressman has been quite open about his frustrations with “rightwing Tea Party extremists” in the past, and said the stalemates in Congress played a role in his decision to retire.
“I have to admit — certainly it was a factor,” Waxman said.
He said House Republicans seem to be held captive by some Tea Party representatives, “who believe compromise is a bad thing.” Even so, Waxman said he was able to get some bipartisan bills passed, including legislation that enabled an incentive auction of the television spectrum for mobile broadband devices, the proceeds of which are to be used toward the construction of an interoperable public safety broadband network. He said he also passed a law that gave the FDA more power to stop contaminated drugs.
“Things can get done, but it’s so much harder when you have people who have threatened reasonable Republicans not to work with us or face a primary challenge. I think that’s going to change,” Waxman said, adding that Republicans are going through a “civil war” that could destroy the party if the right-wing side wins. However, he said he believes traditional conservatives and the business community will bring the party back to a more moderate position.
The congressman said he is very proud of his achievements during his 40-year career. He referenced the Ryan White Care Act, legislation to improve food safety, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Affordable Care Act, bills that improved coverage for low-income individuals and seniors, and tobacco laws.
“The truth of the matter is there are so many bills that I authored that I care a great deal about. …It often took years of effort to put ideas into law,” Waxman added.
He said tobacco regulations were a particularly good example of the time it takes to see progress. Waxman said he began combating tobacco as the chairman of the Health and Environment Subcommittee in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1994 that legislators had a breakthrough. Tobacco company CEOs had testified that they felt cigarettes were safe and that nicotine was not addictive, among other claims, he said.
“Then the dam opened up where we were getting documents from inside the industry,” Waxman said, adding that the hearing and the investigation afterward made a huge difference in swaying public opinion on tobacco.
He admitted to having “no idea” what he will do as a retired member of Congress, though he wants to spend time in both Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Waxman said he will not be a lobbyist, but practicing law is an option. He “absolutely” wants to stay involved in politics.
“I don’t have to decide that for eleven months,” the congressman said. He doesn’t golf, but he will be spending more time with his grandchildren.
Waxman’s term ends in December, and he hopes to continue work on climate change until his final day in office.
“Congress is not going to pass anything in the year that’s left, but I know the president is going to move forward with regulation,” he said.
Waxman’s impact on Southern California was obvious, given the plethora of political leaders who offered kind words after his announcement on Thursday.
“Early in the 20th Century, Henry Waxman’s grandparents came to America, the land of opportunity, and found a place where they could build a better life for themselves and their families,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Over the course of forty years in Congress, their grandson has fought to give every American family that same chance. Thanks to Henry’s leadership, Americans breathe cleaner air, drink cleaner water, eat safer food, purchase safer products and, finally, have access to quality, affordable healthcare. Today, he continues to advocate tirelessly on behalf of Los Angeles and California as he leads efforts to address a changing climate and make sure every American has the economic security that comes with health insurance. Henry will leave behind a legacy as an extraordinary public servant and one of the most accomplished legislators of his or any era. Michelle and I wish him, his wife Janet, and his family all the best as they begin the next chapter of their lives.”
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Waxman, who is “smart, strategically savvy, dogged at oversight and a power to be reckoned with,” will go down as “one of the giants” of Congress.
“His hand can be seen in almost every domestic achievement of the last few decades,” Schiff said. “Along with the departure of Howard Berman last year, California and indeed the whole Congress, have lost two of the strongest pillars of policy-making in the domestic and foreign policy realms. I wish Henry every success in the future, and while I am glad that he will be free to pursue his other ambitions, he will leave behind an unfillable void in the House.”
Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) agreed that Congress lost one of most “decorated and accomplished” leaders.
“Whether it was children’s health, Medicare and Medicaid expansion, universal healthcare, exposing the dangers of tobacco, food safety and labeling protections, funding for HIV and AIDS treatment, or environmental protection and climate change, he has been front and center in these debates and often years ahead of his colleagues,” Bloom said. “He is a true trailblazer and one of the most progressive and inspirational political figures of our time.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to Waxman as a “legendary lawmaker” and “one of the finest champions” for L.A.
“His incredibly compassionate heart drove him to improve our city and our nation, and his work on generic drugs, clean air and tobacco — just to name a few — were profoundly impactful and have saved millions of lives,” Garcetti said. “On behalf of the city of Los Angeles, I want to thank Congressman Waxman for his service, and I hope he enjoys some well-deserved time off.”
His announcement spurred a handful of individuals to consider running for the vacant seat. Former mayoral candidate and city controller Wendy Greuel announced on Jan. 30 that she will run for the office, and state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) declared on Jan. 31. Author Marianne Williamson and producer/director Brent Roske had already filed.
Representatives of the Secretary of State’s Office said the official candidate filing period opens Monday and ends on March 7.
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