Congressman Jerry Lewis announces retirement thanks to redistricting

RepJerryLewis/Flickr.com

Jerry Lewis (R) shakes hands with Ronald Reagan (L)

Veteran Inland Empire congressman Jerry Lewis says he’ll retire at the end of his term this year. The Republican from Redlands says new district lines have made his road to re-election too tough. The Inland Empire lawmaker is the third California Republican to announce retirement in recent days.

Veteran Inland Empire congressman Jerry Lewis says he’ll retire at the end of his term this year. The Republican from Redlands says new district lines have made his road to re-election too tough. The Inland Empire lawmaker is the third California Republican to announce retirement in recent days.

Lewis says he made his decision to retire after months of talking with family and friends.

The silver-haired, 77-year-old lawmaker is one of the most senior members of Congress. He won his first congressional race nearly 35 years ago when Jimmy Carter was president, and he has successfully fought off all newcomers in 16 subsequent elections.

Lewis was once considered to be among Washington's most influential politicians. From 2005 to 2007, he chaired the House Appropriations Committee. He was also chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

“He was very good at funneling tax dollars to the district," said Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside. "That obviously brought some measure of popularity."

But, he adds, "[Lewis] was never one of these guys that had the nationwide publicity. He was very much a backroom guy and had lots of success."

In recent years, Lewis has been dogged by hints of scandal. He was the subject of a Justice Department probe four years ago when clients of a friend’s Washington lobby firm who had donated to Lewis’s re-election campaign ended up with federal money through congressional earmarks.

Earmarks are funding for specific projects and programs that are often slipped into larger appropriations bills. It’s a long-standing practice that Lewis defended in a YouTube interview from August 2010 with the Lake Arrowhead-based “Rim of the World News.”

"Some of that money has been very helpful to the country and to my district," said Lewis in the video. "We would not have been able to get to manage our national forests, to dealing with the bark beetle problem. We would never have proton beam cancer treatment available if it had not been for an earmark a long, long time ago."

The investigation of Lewis ended two years ago and no charges were filed. But shortly after, Lewis lost his bid for chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee — a loss that political watchers say may have played into his decision to retire.

Lewis’s departure has triggered a flood of candidates to fill vacancies in the newly drawn 31st and 8th congressional districts, both of which Lewis could have run in. Several local and state leaders including a San Bernardino County supervisor and the mayor of Redlands have already indicated their interest in running for the open seats.

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