In Congress, even losers come out ahead

They lost their House and Senate seats, in some cases after keeping them warm for three decades. Others up and left on their own. But do not feel too sorry for some of these soon-to-be former lawmakers.

The future is bright for ex-members of Congress. No welfare cheese for them and little if any time among the ranks of the unemployed.

Some already have settled on new careers. Or old ones, as the case may be.

"I’ll probably go home and drive a truck for a couple of weeks to get centered again," Rep. Mike Sodrel, R-Ind., a 60-year-old freshman who was defeated, said in an interview.

During the campaign that got him elected in 2004, Sodrel, a millionaire who owns three trucking and bus companies, cruised around southeastern Indiana in his own 18-wheeler.

Last month, he lost to Baron Hill, the Democratic congressman he beat two years ago.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, the House Science Committee chairman, is joining the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. The longest-serving New York Republican in Congress, Boehlert quit after 24 years.

Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, sent packing after 30 years, is sifting through offers from prestigious East Coast universities — Georgetown, Harvard and Princeton among them — as well as schools in his Midwestern home state.

Defeated GOP Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio is talking to universities about teaching and law firms about legal work as he prepares to re-enter private life for the first time in 30 years.

Some departing lawmakers insist they will go back home when they are sitting congressmen no more, after their successors are sworn in Jan. 4. This, despite the lucrative lure of joining the influence industry in the capital as a lobbyist or consultant.

"This has been a nasty and brutish place for some time," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "I think for many people, they’re tired of it, even if they’ve been a part of it, and they’d like to get at least a breather away from it."

Lawmakers are more inclined to leave families home these days and sink fewer roots here than in the past. Beyond that, most of the departing members are Republican, and job prospects in the capital may be less-than-stellar, with Democrats taking control of both houses of the new Congress.

"The ability of Republicans to make money in the short run is less than it is for Democrats right now," said L. Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. "I don’t think the doors are as wide open."

Few ex-lawmakers go begging in the capital. Those who become lobbyists cannot approach their former colleagues for a year, under current rules, or two years if a Democratic proposal takes effect, but can lobby the administration right away.

Another option is to relax.

"Congress provides handsome retirements for itself," said former Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., who joined the Brookings Institution think tank after retiring in 1991. "So if you’ve been in Congress as some of these folks have been, 20, 25 years, it isn’t necessary for them to find gainful employment."

That is what Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., has decided to do, after 32 years of service.

At age 82, with failing ears and back and other problems that make getting around difficult, Hyde said he would fully retire — not even write his memoirs.

Sen. Conrad Burns, denied a fourth term, said he will return to Montana to work on behalf of farmers, lawsuit reform and lower taxes — and on something closer to home.

"I’m to the age where I’d like to enjoy my granddaughter," said Burns, 71.

Sen. Bill Frist, the surgeon-turned-senator, is going back to Tennessee, having ruled out a run for the presidency, and said that for the near future, he will join missions overseas once more, as a doctor ministering to the poor.

"I’m going to live in the very same house that I was born in 54 years ago," he said in a Senate farewell speech.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

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