Quoting passages from the Bible and the sayings of Ronald Reagan, Republican Rep. John Doolittle announced Thursday that he will retire after a 17-year congressional career.
Doolittle, who represented Tahoe and Truckee, rose high in the ranks of Republican leadership after exposing congressional banking corruption early in his career as part of the “Gang of Seven,” but will end his political career as similar questions over his own alleged corruption mounted into a federal investigation.
Doolittle announced his decision at a press conference with his wife, Julie, who is also being investigated for her ties to convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
“Julie and I have made this decision after much prayer and deliberation. It was not my initial intent to retire. And I fully expected to plan to run again until very recently,” Doolittle said at a Rocklin press conference Thursday.
Doolittle’s decision to leave Congress after his current term leaves the race for the seat of the traditionally conservative 4th District in upheaval.
Just hours after his retirement announcement, former California Assemblyman Rico Oller announced he will run for Doolittle’s seat, with the reporting that Oller is Doolittle’s hand-picked candidate.
Various newspapers have reported that State Senator Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) is also contemplating a run. But a person familiar with the Oller and Aanestad camps said that the senator will not likely seek Doolittle’s seat.
Those two Republicans would join a crowded field ” including former Auburn mayor Mike Holmes and Eric Egland ” competing for the Republican nomination. California Assemblyman Ted Gaines has formed an exploratory committee to decide whether to also mount a campaign for the congressional post.
On Thursday, former and current elected officials who have worked with Doolittle on Tahoe-Truckee issues, reacted to the news. The divergent responses reflected the way the long-time congressman polarized his district.
“Even the people who opposed him will say that John was a strong opponent and strong on the issues he believed in,” said Bruce Kranz, the Placer County supervisor who represents North Tahoe and eastern Placer County.
Kranz, who was supported by Doolittle when he won the Placer County supervisor seat, said Doolittle was a great political partner for work on issues like biomass, wildfire prevention, roads and infrastructure.
Beth Ingalls, the former mayor of Truckee, said Doolittle’s departure was welcome.
“I’m ecstatic that he’s leaving,” said Ingalls. “I felt that he was really, really out of touch with the people in this part of the district that he represents.
“He’s been in that office too long,” she said.
Ingalls criticized both Doolittle’s politics, and the ethics of the nine-term representative.
“I felt deep in my heart that he was a shady guy,” she said.
Nevada County Supervisor and Truckee resident Ted Owens praised Doolittle’s track record.
“I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves,” said Owens. “I’ve found him to be a very good public servant.”
Former Placer County Supervisor Rex Bloomfield said Doolittle’s decision to step down was the right one. Bloomfield lost his seat to Kranz.
“I think his retirement is his greatest act of public service to date,” said Bloomfield.
Doolittle made no reference to his legal troubles in a prepared statement, instead issuing something of a call to arms to fellow conservatives. But the federal investigation has hurt his fundraising and raised worries that he would lose an election to Democratic candidate Charlie Brown, who nearly unseated him a year ago.
Doolittle has denied wrongdoing in his ties to Abramoff, the disgraced former lobbyist whom he considered a close friend. But after the FBI raided the congressman’s Virginia home in April looking for information about event-planning work that Doolittle’s wife did for Abramoff, the congressman was forced to step down from the powerful Appropriations Committee.
A flurry of grand jury subpoenas to the congressman and his aides followed. Party leaders pointedly declined to encourage Doolittle’s re-election plans and his fundraising lagged.
Doolittle is contesting subpoenas for his congressional records as part of a larger dispute between Congress and the Justice Department over the scope of criminal investigations of lawmakers. That made it unlikely that his legal situation would be resolved before November’s election.
For months, Doolittle resisted suggestions that he retire, branding his GOP critics “weasels.” But he faced mounting legal bills and growing Republican opposition.
Meanwhile, Brown collected 10 times as much money as the incumbent for a rematch.
Doolittle has a number of ties to Abramoff, including interceding on behalf of the lobbyist’s tribal clients. He received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money from Abramoff and his clients, and unlike other lawmakers he never returned it.
Abramoff’s firm employed Julie Doolittle for event planning work from 2002 to 2004, paying her a total of $66,690. Doolittle has said prosecutors seem focused on whether his wife did real work to earn the money. The fundraising event she was hired to plan ended up getting canceled after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Abramoff investigation already has led to a dozen convictions.
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