Baird won’t seek re-election

6-term congressman says he wants more time with family

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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photoRep. Brian Baird

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— U.S. Rep. Brian Baird said Wednesday he’ll leave Congress at the end of his term in 2010 to spend more time with his family, including his 4½-year-old twin sons.

“Serving our country and representing the people of Southwest Washington in Congress has been the highest honor and greatest responsibility of my life,” the Vancouver Democrat said in a statement that instantly shook up Democratic politics in Clark County.

Baird, 53, said he discussed the matter with his wife, Rachel Nugent, over Thanksgiving and they concluded that the time was right for him to make a career change.

“I’m confident I would win again,” he said. “The question is: Is this the right thing to do with a young family right now? The answer for us was no.”

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At least three Vancouver Democrats, state Sen. Craig Pridemore and state Reps. Deb Wallace and Jim Moeller, said Wednesday they will consider entering the race for the 3rd Congressional District seat Baird has held for six terms.

“I’m very likely to run,” said Wallace, a moderate who represents the 17th Legislative District, historically a swing district in election years. “The 3rd and the 17th have so much in common. It’s a broad spectrum of people who support me. Our country is in such dire straits at this point, I’m going to give it some serious thought.”

Pridemore, who represents the heavily Democratic 49th District, said he had been besieged with phone calls since Baird’s announcement.

“I am not announcing that I’m running,” he said. “I will be talking to a lot of people over the next few weeks. It is a major lifestyle decision. I very much like being in my neighborhood with my family and friends nearby.”

“I’ll certainly take a look at it. But I also have a very strong interest in what I am doing right now,” said Moeller, also from the 49th, who serves as House Deputy Speaker Pro Tem when the Legislature is in session. “I will be talking to people over the next week and then I’ll decide.”

Time is short because the state Democratic Party is scheduled to make its endorsements in the state’s congressional races next month, Moeller said.

State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz said he was surprised by the news.

“Brian Baird has done an excellent job representing the 3rd District,” he said. “He’s a very intelligent and hardworking member of Congress. I haven’t always agreed with Brian on every issue, but I’m sad to hear he plans to leave Congress. I’m confident that a number of talented elected Democrats from the 3rd will consider this race and throw their hat in the ring and that we’ll have an exciting primary.”

Two Republicans, Olympia financial consultant David Castillo and Washougal City Council member Jon Russell, have filed for the 3rd District seat with the Federal Elections Commission. A third, David Hedrick of Camas, has announced on conservative talk radio that he is a candidate. Hedrick won national notoriety after he challenged Baird at a town hall meeting on health care reform in August.

Castillo issued a statement complimenting Baird on his service to the residents of Southwest Washington. Russell issued a statement blaming Baird for his part in the nation’s $1.7 trillion deficit, and saying Baird’s announcement “underscores the political reality that there is a political sea change coming, and he was about to get swept under.”

Baird said his decision not to seek re-election had nothing to do with last summer’s tumultuous town hall meetings.

“It wasn’t a factor,” he said. “People may not believe this, but at the end of it, I thought we had a pretty good discussion. The foo-fah over the disruption was unfortunate.”

Praise for Baird

The state’s leading Democrats praised Baird’s service.

“Brian will be greatly missed in the United State Congress,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire. “He has worked well on behalf of the people of the state of Washington and the 3rd District, especially on issues like securing the sales tax exemption to provide tax fairness for our residents and protecting our communities from methamphetamine.”

“Brian has been a great partner with me in Congress on issues from Columbia River dredging to the sales tax deduction to improving transportation in Southwest Washington,” said Sen. Patty Murray.

Sen. Maria Cantwell said Baird has been “a smart, passionate advocate for the people of Southwest Washington.”

“I am disappointed he won’t be running again,” said Vancouver Mayor Royce E. Pollard. “Brian has done a lot for our community and is a good friend of America’s Vancouver.”

‘Plenty to do’

Baird first ran for Congress in 1996 when he was chairman of the psychology department at Pacific Lutheran University. He was defeated by Republican Linda Smith. In 1998, he ran again and defeated Republican Don Benton after Smith vacated the seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

“Since the time I first announced I would seek election in November of 1995, I have done my utmost to work hard, tell the truth, listen, and do what was right for our nation,” Baird said in a statement. “I am proud of the record of achievements for our district, and I am incredibly grateful to the voters who have entrusted me with this responsibility.”

Baird said he intends to work hard for the remainder of his term. “There is plenty to do,” he said. “I just won a one-year extension of sales tax deductibility.”

He said he and his wife have no definite plans for what comes next.

What he won’t miss, he said, are the brutal coast-to-coast commutes that left him unable to spend enough time with his sons, who are attending a public preschool in Washington, D.C., this year.

“It’s just the time away from them. You’re always feeling guilty. If you’re with your family, you say, ‘I should be in district.’ If you’re in district, you say, ‘I should be with my family.’”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.