Here's some shocking political news from New Jersey, and it has nothing to do with the George Washington Bridge. The news, from philly.com, is that Rep. Rob Andrews will resign from Congress later this month to take a job with an unnamed Philadelphia law firm.
No big scandal here, though the article notes that Andrews may be under investigation for spending campaign money on a family trip to Scotland (sounds pretty innocent to me). What's interesting is that this comes just days after California Rep. George Miller announced his retirement, as I noted in my Monday column on the passing of the Democratic class of 1974. Andrews is just behind Miller in seniority on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in line to be a committee chairman if Democrats get a House majority or, if not, ranking minority member of a committee which has done some serious bipartisan legislating (notably when Miller worked with then-Chairman John Boehner on the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001).
I have to believe that Andrews concluded there was no chance of becoming chairman any time soon, either because he doubted that Democrats would win a majority or had some apprehension that if they did, the Democratic Caucus would pass over him for the next in seniority, the more reliably liberal Bobby Scott. (As I mentioned in my column, one of the key rules changes triggered by the election of the 75 Democratic freshmen in 1974 was election of committee chairmen or, as in eight of the last ten Congresses, ranking minority members by the Democratic Caucus.) It has been speculated that the class of 1974's George Miller and Henry Waxman's retirements were based partly on the calculation that Democrats wouldn't get a House majority anytime soon. Maybe so, but they're also at an age -- Miller is 67, Waxman 74 -- when many people choose to retire. The decision by Andrews to retire at age 56 is more likely to be based on that calculation.
Andrews has long struck me as a natural pol with a serious interest in public policy and a Bill Clintonesque proclivity for moderate policies. He was first elected to the House in 1990 at age 33 after three years on the Camden County Board of Freeholders; he can claim to have practiced law for eight years, but for practical purposes, he's a political lifer.
He has long had an interest in statewide office. In 1997, he ran for governor and was beaten by state Sen. and future Gov. Jim McGreevey in the Democratic primary by a 40 percent to 37 percent margin — 9,993 popular votes in a state of 8 million. McGreevey lost that fall to Republican incumbent Christine Todd Whitman by a 47 percent to 46 percent margin.
I think it's pretty likely that Andrews believes that if he had somehow gotten 10,000 more, he would, with his South Jersey base and his sometimes-moderate policies, have won that election, and then, at age 40, operating in the New York media market, he would have attracted the attention of the national media, and then ...
Andrews's statewide ambitions were frustrated because his South Jersey base is heavily outvoted by North Jersey counties in Democratic primaries, and because he has on occasion fallen out with longtime Camden County party leader (and now owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and philly.com) George Norcross.
County party leaders play a key role in statewide Democratic primaries. After McGreevey resigned as governor in 2004, Andrews was interested in running again, but he and others were elbowed aside by Sen. Jon Corzine, who used his Goldman Sachs money to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to county Democratic party organizations and was, perhaps coincidentally, endorsed by them when he ran for governor.
In 2008, Andrews ran against 85-year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg and lost the Democratic primary 59 percent to 35 percent. When Lautenberg announced his retirement in February 2013, Andrews indicated that he wasn't interested in the seat and said "he would rather be in a leadership position in the House than a freshman in the Senate." In any case, it looked at that point like Newark Mayor Cory Booker had the nomination sewed up, as indeed he did, and he won the seat last fall after Lautenberg's death.
Now, a year after Andrews said he would like to be in a leadership position in the House, Andrews has decided he would rather not. I can only conclude that he thinks the chances of a Democratic majority are slim and that at age 56 with two college-aged daughters, it is time to get out of elective politics after 27 years and time to cash in. If he's got a problem with the House ethics committee, it disappears when he resigns because the committee has no jurisdiction over nonmembers.
Incidentally, the philly.com blog post says that his likely successor is state Sen. Donald Norcross, George Norcross's brother. The Norcrosses, like state Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, have backgrounds in private-sector unions and have been allies of Gov. Chris Christie in his battles with public-sector unions. I have seen no evidence that Andrews has anything to do with closing down traffic lanes on any bridge approach.