House GOP's 2010 Tea Party Class Heads For The Exits | KERA News

House GOP's 2010 Tea Party Class Heads For The Exits

Apr 3, 2016
Originally published on April 12, 2016 2:49 pm

Like so many Americans approaching retirement, Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Rigell dreams about spending a little more time on the water.

"I have a little rowboat called Miss Nelly. She's 13 feet long, and there's not a motor on it. There's no radio on it. And I'm so looking forward to being on that rowboat," says Rigell.

Rigell is retiring after just six years in Congress. He was one of the 87 Republicans who rode the Tea Party wave to a pivotal GOP takeover of the House.

At the end of this Congress, more than one-third of that class will be gone from the U.S. House.

Like many of those freshman lawmakers, Rigell had never held any public office before he arrived in Washington. Before he took office, Rigell was a car salesman.

He ran as an "outsider" in a year when voters were tired of political insiders.

As it turns out, some people who never harbored ambitions to be career politicians don't love being politicians.

"I think, for many of us in my class, it truly wasn't on the bucket list of life to be here. It wasn't as if I was a junior in high school saying, 'I want to be a member of Congress,' " Rigell says.

Twenty-one members of his class have already left, although two of them now serve in the Senate: Cory Gardner of Colorado and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Three more House Republicans are running for the Senate this year.

Another eight members of the class are retiring. The retiring lawmakers include a farmer, a decorated Army veteran and a construction company owner.

"I've had better jobs than this," retiring Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek says with a chuckle. "It's amazing to me how people are like, 'Oh, I've got to run for Congress. That's going to be the best.' I don't know. I never really felt that way."

Benishek was a surgeon before he came to Congress. He says voters frustrated at Washington should cheer these lawmakers' decisions to retire after a few years.

It's like self-imposed term limits — and Benishek says that means fewer career politicians.

"There is a lot of turnover in Congress. Despite what people say about people staying forever, that's not really the case. I think people didn't realize how much turnover there is in general," he says.

Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble ran his family's roofing company before he won in 2010. He's retiring to spend more time with his family, but he conceded this: "It would be disingenuous to say I'm not also frustrated with the work here."

Ribble and his retiring colleagues say they are, for the most part, proud of what a Republican-controlled House managed to get done these past six years.

He cited making the Bush tax cuts permanent, new restraints on federal spending, and updated education and highway laws.

"These were fairly significant things that we got done while we were here, so some of us are saying, 'OK, we can go home,' " he says.

Rigell agrees. He says he's grateful for his time in Washington but, in a lengthy interview in his office, he keeps coming back to a nagging concern that the Tea Party class — and the years since — will also be remembered for another reason.

"Well, I'd say we were right at the cusp of when the American political system started to come unhinged. And it's unfortunate," he says.

Rigell says he wants to continue work in his soon-to-be-private life to inject more civility in American politics.

There may be more job opportunities for that off Capitol Hill.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When Republicans took control of the House in 2010, the freshman class had an outsider feel. Many of the newly-minted congressmen and women had never held public office. Now after just six years on Capitol Hill, some of them are going back to private life. NPR's Susan Davis has more.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Like so many Americans approaching retirement, Virginia Republican Scott Rigell dreams about spending a little more time on the water.

SCOTT RIGELL: I have a little rowboat called Miss Nelly. She's 13-feet long. And there's not a motor on it; there's no radio on it. And I'm so looking forward to being on that rowboat.

DAVIS: Rigell is retiring after just six years in Congress. He was one of the 87 Republicans who rode the Tea Party wave to a GOP takeover of the House. And at the end of this Congress, more than a third of that class will be gone. Before he got here, Rigell was a car salesman. He ran as an outsider in a year when voters were tired of political insiders. Sound familiar? Turns out people who never harbored ambitions to be career politicians don't always love being politicians. Here's Rigell again.

RIGELL: I think for many of us in my class, it truly wasn't on the bucket list of life to be here. It wasn't as if, you know, I was a junior in high school saying I want to be a member of Congress.

DAVIS: Twenty-one members of his class have already left, although two of them now serve in the Senate. And three more are running for the Senate this year. Another eight members of the class are retiring this year. That's ahead of schedule in a chamber where the average lawmaker serves about nine years. The retiring lawmakers include a farmer, a decorated Army veteran and a construction company owner. You hear this a lot when you ask them why they're leaving.

DAN BENISHEK: I mean, I have better jobs than this (laughter). You know, to me it's amazing how people really - oh, I've got to run for Congress. You know, that's going to be the best. I don't know, I never really felt that way.

DAVIS: That's Michigan Republican Dan Benishek. He's also leaving. He was a surgeon before he came to Congress. He says voters frustrated at Washington should cheer these lawmakers decision to retire after a few years. It's a sort of like term limits, and Benishek says that means fewer career politicians.

BENISHEK: There is a lot of turnover in Congress. Despite what people say about, you know, people staying forever, that's not really the case. I think people didn't realize how much turnover there is in general.

DAVIS: Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble ran his family's roofing company before he won in 2010. He's retiring to spend more time with his family. But he conceded this...

REID RIBBLE: It would be disingenuous to say I'm not also frustrated with the work here.

DAVIS: Yes, Washington gridlock is even frustrating to members of the Tea Party class. But Ribble and his colleagues say they are, for the most part, proud of what a Republican-controlled House has managed to get done these past six years, like making the Bush tax cuts permanent, new restraints on federal spending and updated education and highway laws.

RIBBLE: These are fairly significant things that we got done while we were here, so many of us are saying OK, we can go home.

DAVIS: Rigell agrees. He's grateful for his time in Washington. But in a lengthy interview in his office, he keeps coming back to a nagging concern that the Tea Party class in the years since will also be remembered for this...

RIGELL: Well, I'd say that we're right at the cusp of when the American political system started to become unhinged, and it's unfortunate.

DAVIS: Rigell says he wants to continue work in his soon-to-be private life to inject more civility in American politics. There may be more job opportunities for that off Capitol Hill. Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.