Nebraska Republican Senator Mike Johanns has announced he will not seek another term in 2014.
His surprise decision opens up the field to a half dozen serious GOP candidates vying to replace him, including the current Governor David Heineman and Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith.
Republicans have a very deep bench in Nebraska and while Johann’s retirement represents the first such casualty for the GOP, the seat should remain safely in the red column.
Johanns was a hard-line conservative on the Senate Banking Committee. He recently demanded the resignation of Richard Cordray, head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, after a court decision placed the constitutionality of Cordray’s 2012 recess appointment in question.
Johanns joined with his party in pledging to block any new CFPB director unless the agency is restructured, and he is at the forefront of a legislative charge to block the consumer agency from going forward with decisions made under Cordray’s tenure.
A social conservative, Johanns has also led the Senate charge for a “fetal pain” bill, legislation that would require women seeking abortions to receive information on the physical pain the bill’s supporters say are felt by fetuses during abortions. Johanns has introduced the bill several times during his tenure, but it has never advanced out of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.
On the Agriculture panel, Johanns served as the attack dog against the Environmental Protection Agency. Through the farm bill and other legislative channels, the senator repeatedly sought to ban EPA from regulating what critics call farm dust. The attacks played well with Nebraska’s strong agriculture lobby.
But he’s also shown a willingness to cut a deal — particularly on the deficit. Last Congress, he organized a bipartisan effort to encourage the White House and congressional leaders to push forward a grand bargain deal with revenues and spending cuts.
And Johanns joined a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators — known as the Gang of Eight — which attempted for months to produce a budget-cutting plan. Another deal-cutting member of that budget group, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, has also announced he plans to retire at the end of his term in January 2015.
Moreover, Johanns bucked his party when he announced he’d back fellow Nebraskan Chuck Hagel’s nomination to become defense secretary, and he was one of just four GOP senators last week to vote against a Republican-led filibuster preventing the nomination from moving forward
Johanns would not be the first lawmaker to retire in disgust at the irresponsibility and petty knavery that describes the US Congress of today. When reasonably intelligent people become so frustrated with politics that they eschew what would have been a relatively easy re-election bid, fingers must be pointed at the broken system that is driving them away.