Jerry Lewis, dean of California's GOP delegation, calls it quits
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), dean of California’s GOP congressional delegation and a fixture in Golden State politics since Ronald Reagan’s governorship, on Thursday announced he would retire when his term expires, further shaking up the state’s Washington representation.
"After months of consultation with loved ones and family, my wife Arlene and I have decided to retire from public life," he said in a statement. Lewis becomes the sixth member of the state's 53-member House delegation who will be retiring or running for another office.
His decision will set off a game of political musical chairs.
The 77-year-old Lewis has been contemplating retirement since his Inland Empire district was carved up by a redistricting plan, drawn up for the first time by a citizens commission instead of lawmakers.
Lewis has been an Inland Empire political legend, first elected to Congress in 1978 after a decade in the state Assembly.
The year he arrived on Capitol Hill, Jimmy Carter was president, a first-class postage stamp was 15 cents and Barack Obama was enrolling at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Lewis has amassed an impressive resume: former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; onetime No. 3 in House GOP leadership; former head of his state's Republican delegation; a major Republican fundraiser -- and the man who saved former House Speaker Jim Wright from drowning.
As a senior member (and as former chairman) of the Appropriations Committee, he has been cheered -- and vilified -- for steering millions of federal dollars to his Inland Empire districts. His legacy includes the Lewis Center for Educational Research in Apple Valley, the Jerry Lewis Swim Center in San Bernardino and the Jerry Lewis Community Center in Highland, plus road, sewer and other projects. He also has played a key role in securing money to help California recover from earthquakes and wildfires and to pay for jailing illegal immigrants.
But with Republicans determined to reduce the federal budget deficit, opportunities to bring home the bacon have diminished. Lewis also lost an effort to win back the Appropriations Committee chairmanship last year.
Lewis’ announcement came hours after Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, a Democrat, announced his candidacy for the newly drawn district that includes Lewis’ Redlands home.
“I’m running for Congress because the Inland Empire needs a representative in Washington who will reach across party lines to create jobs, protect vital programs and improve infrastructure,” Aguilar said in a statement Thursday.
Others who have announced plans to retire when their terms end are Republicans Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley and Wally Herger of Chico and Democrats Dennis Cardoza of Atwater and Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma. Democrat Rep. Bob Filner is running for mayor of San Diego.
Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), whose district was radically changed by the remapping, has not yet announced his plans. But there has been speculation that, if Lewis retires, Dreier might run in a new, GOP-friendly district that stretches from Yucca Valley to Inyo and Mono counties.
-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Rep. Jerry Lewis in a 2005 photo. Credit: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press