In a surprise move, Indiana’s 51-year old Rep. Steve Buyer announced today that he would not seek re-election in November. Best known as one of the 13 House managers of Clinton’s impeachment trial, Buyer is the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee. He was first elected in 1993, which explains why he has a lot of seniority at a relatively young age.
In an emotional press conference, Buyer explained that his wife, whom he has known since 3rd grade, had just been diagnosed with an incurable disease.
His retirement comes at a time Buyer is facing probes by the Office of Congressional Ethics and the IRS over The Frontier Foundation, a scholarship fund he founded in 2003. The Indianapolis Star reported this fall that the fund had yet to award a single scholarship but that it ha been used to finance the congressman’s golf outings with wealthy donors at places like the Bahamas and Disney World.
Further questions were raised about whether Buyer was using the Foundation to trade legislative assistance for personal favors when it was discovered that the drug lobby group PhRMA had not only donated hundreds of thousands to Buyer’s foundation but had also hired Ryan Buyer, the congressman’s son and a director of the foundation. As you would expect, Rep. Buyer sits on the House Energy Subcommittee on Health.
“No good deed goes unpunished, that’s how I feel at the moment,” Buyer answered at the time, but the fact that his committee had failed to give out a single scholarship in six years led the IRS to open a probe into whether The Frontier Foundation mischaracterizes itself to benefit from a favorable tax status. In investigators’ cross hair, Buyer cut a CBS interview short in November when he proved unable to answer journalists’ questions and he was recently profiled on CNN.
Best known as one of the 13 House managers of Clinton’s impeachment trial, Buyer is the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee; he also attracted attention by calling for a nuclear attack on Afghanistan.
Buyer is the 15th Republican to announce he will not seek re-election, a number that is expected to grow perhaps within hours as Rep. John Boozman is preparing to announce a Senate run in Arkansas.
Yet, Buyer’s retirement gives Democrats little to no opening: IN-04 is Indiana’s second most Republican seat, which is saying a lot since the state is undeniably leans conservative. In 2004, George W. Bush got 69% of the vote; in 2008, Obama dramatically cut the margin but he still lost 56% to 43%. Furthermore, Indiana is not one of those GOP-voting states in which Democrats are dominant at the local level, so Republicans have a stronger bench to choose from.
Buyer was accompanied at his press conference by state Senator Brandt Hershman; while Hershman did not say anything, the significance of his presence was unmistakable. Former State Rep. Matt Whetstone has said he is interested in running. Another politician who could jump in is Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman. At the moment, I have seen no Democrat’s name mentioned. The filing deadline is coming up in less than three weeks, so the many Republicans have little time to make a decision and the DCCC has just as little time to find someone to field.
VA-09, NY-01: Strike two Democrats off the retirement list
One name we keep hearing as a potential Democratic retiree is Rep. Rick Boucher, a 63-year old who has represented VA-09 for 18 years. An open seat would be a catastrophe for Democrats: the district voted for John McCain by 19%. Yet, the Virginian released a statement yesterday saying he is “planning to seek reelection.” He continued: “I have given no consideration to retiring. While I never make political announcements this early in the year, due to the press inquires we are receiving, it is time to remove any doubt anyone has about my intentions.”
The statement appears worded in such a way that Boucher can later justify a retirement (he finally got around to considering it, his intentions changed); the filing deadline is not for another three months, which would leave him time to backtrack; and Dennis Moore and Marion Berry had also said they would run. Yet, we’re getting late enough in the cycle that we can start trusting such declarations can be trusted - especially since they come in a statement his office chose to release rather than in off-the-cuff remarks, as was the case with Berry.
Boucher might also be affirming his intentions loud and clear to ensure potential Republican challengers don’t get in the race thinking he is heading out. As I wrote about earlier this month, VA-9 is one district in which the NRCC has suffered recruitment failures. They’re now hoping to convince State House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, but at the moment VA-9 is not vulnerable.
Another Democrat who confirmed he would run is 59-year old Rep. Tim Bishop (NY-01), who said he “sure as hell” isn’t retiring. While there’s been nowhere near as much speculation surrounding him as there has been around Boucher, but at this point any incumbent from a marginal district who clarifies his plans is worth pointing out.