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GOP lawmaker John Campbell on what's wrong with Congress

Capitol Hill veteran John Campbell reflects on Congressional gridlock.
Capitol Hill veteran John Campbell reflects on Congressional gridlock.

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Irvine Republican John Campbell surprised Capitol Hill last week, announcing he'll step down next year after nearly a decade in Congress. He has a few thoughts about the Washington institution.

Campbell says he's finally "hit the wall." He says in his marriage of 34 years, "We've never liked being apart — and we've been apart most of last 14 years." That includes half a dozen years in Sacramento, serving in the state legislature.

Campbell says this will be his third career change — from accountant to car dealership owner to politics. He's not quite sure what's next, but definitely not a K Street lobbying firm: "You will not find me doing that." 

Campbell says it's frustrating being a Republican from a blue state and predicts nothing but gridlock ahead in Washington, "because there is no overlap between Barack Obama's agenda and any reasonable Republican agenda." But he doesn't blame Congress for the stark divide between liberals and conservatives. He suspects the division is "more a function of the House reflecting the country than the other way around." 

There's another problem: Congress just doesn't have the time for proper oversight. "As the government gets bigger," he says, taking on more responsibilities, adding more agencies, "then Congress needs to actually do a lot more stuff than it did fifty or sixty years ago because there's more stuff to manage." Campbell cites the lack of oversight at the Internal Revenue Service as one example.

Campbell came to Congress in 2005, in an era when lawmakers fly home every weekend rather than live in D.C., where they could build relationships with fellow members outside of the office. He admits his best buddy is House Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), with whom he served in the California legislature. 

Campbell says those much-criticized Congressional fact-finding trips are often the place relationships are built, but because of constituent and family commitments, he only traveled on one of those. But even choosing to stay in D.C. on weekends wouldn't help, he says. "There’s like nobody around! Most people fly back."

The Irvine lawmaker says he made his announcement 18 months before the election to give his staff time to find other jobs — and allow the best candidates to come forward. Republican state Senator Mimi Walters has already announced she'll run to succeed Campbell.

House District 45 is generally considered safe for the GOP, though voter registration rolls show that Republicans are outnumbered by a combination of Democrats and those who decline to state a party preference. Campbell barely won a majority of votes in last year's open primary against a Democratic opponent.