By MARSHA MERCER
Normally, when a big-name public official announces he – it’s usually he -- is quitting his job to spend more time with his family, it’s a dodge.
Heads nod, knowing he’s in trouble and has no cushy job waiting on the outside. Few feel his pain.
For members of Congress, the family excuse often means the politician faces a tough re-election or must relinquish his committee chairman gavel because of House term limit rules. Or both.
Some go out complaining about the capital’s toxic atmosphere, the dysfunctional Congress and the never-ending quest for campaign cash.
A few members this year are also leaving Congress under the cloud of sexual harassment accusations.
In contrast, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s surprise announcement Wednesday he won’t seek another term in Congress was Dad of the Year material. He spoke about going home to Janesville, Wisconsin, to his wife Janna and children Liza, Sam and Charlie.
“This is my 20th year in Congress. My kids weren’t even born when I was first elected. Our oldest was 13 when I became speaker. Now all three of our kids are teenagers. And one thing I’ve learned about teenagers is their idea of an ideal weekend is not necessarily to spend all of the time with their parents,” Ryan told reporters.
And here’s the kicker: “What I realize is, if I’m here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen.”
You don’t have to be in Congress to know what Ryan is talking about. Many moms and dads in demanding careers have similar nagging guilt.
Perhaps more than most 48-year-olds, Ryan feels his own mortality. Both his father and grandfather died of heart attacks before they were 60. At just 16 and a high school sophomore, Ryan found his father, an attorney, dead in his bed at 55.
Ryan has always seemed apart from most ambitious politicians. After being GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, he was widely expected to run for president in 2016, but didn’t. He was drafted as Speaker, an increasingly thankless job, in 2015, after John Boehner resigned from Congress.
As Speaker, Ryan travels the country extensively, fundraising and campaigning for GOP candidates. He often sees his kids only on Sunday, he told Fox News.
But if Ryan’s choice is good for him, it’s also good for Democrats.
By retiring, he signals the House may be lost and Democrat Nancy Pelosi will return as Speaker next year. Naturally, Ryan insists the GOP is in great shape and he’ll still campaign for Republicans. But a lame duck can’t talk convincingly about the future.
The customary route would have been to run and then retire after the election. The former altar boy considered doing that.
“But just as my conscience is what got me to take this job in the first place, my conscience could not handle going out that way,” he said.
As it is, Ryan is the most prominent in an army of incumbent Republicans beating a retreat from Washington. More than 40 House Republicans are either retiring or running for another office.
In Virginia, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte announced his retirement two days after a Democratic tide in last November’s state election swept many Republican incumbents from the legislature. Goodlatte is prohibited under House rules from staying on as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Ryan wasn’t even the only Republican to announce his retirement Wednesday.
Rep. Dennis Ross, Republican of Florida, was announcing his when he looked at Fox News and saw Ryan was leaving, he told his local paper.
The filing deadline hasn’t passed in 19 states, so more retirements are possible.
As if the November election weren’t campaign enough, a battle now kicks off for Speaker, with Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana leading contenders.
Democrats, who need a net gain of two dozen seats for control of the House, were delighted by the unexpected turn of events.
“With his retirement announcement Speaker Paul Ryan becomes the first casualty of the 2018 midterm election,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, tweeted.
The Republicans’ nightmare in April seems like a dream come true for Democrats, but they shouldn’t celebrate just yet.
It’s a long, long way to November – and victory has previously eluded their grasp.
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.