Seven Democrats and a Republican are returning to the House after previously losing re-election or retiring from office — the highest number of former members to return at the same time in modern history, according to political aides and congressional researchers.
WASHINGTON — Rick Nolan defeated Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., this month by 9 points, and with the full support of his wife, Mary, the 68-year-old Democrat is returning to Washington after being gone for 32 years.
“I think she was tired of me getting up in the morning at 5 and watching ‘Morning Joe’ and getting upset,” Nolan said. “She wanted me to go talk about it to somebody else. She said, ‘It’s your passion, Rick, go get ‘em.’ “
When Nolan retired from Congress in January 1981, the Reagan Revolution was just beginning, cable news was in its infancy and the No. 1 song in America was John Lennon’s “Just Like Starting Over.”
Now Nolan is starting over, returning to serve next year in a bitterly divided Congress to work alongside colleagues who weren’t alive when he first left town.
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There are few opportunities for a successful second act in American politics, but Nolan is among seven Democrats and a Republican returning to the House after previously losing re-election or retiring from office.
It’s the highest number of former members to return at the same time in modern history, according to political aides and congressional researchers.
In interviews, many of the newly elected members said they eagerly sought a return to block the tea party’s rise and to have a second chance at finishing what they started.
Nolan first came to Washington as a staffer for then-Sen. Walter Mondale, D-Minn., but went back to Minnesota to serve in the legislature. He won a U.S. House seat in 1974 as one of dozens of “Watergate baby” Democrats elected in the wake of President Nixon’s resignation.
But he left Congress in 1981 of his own volition and returned home to run a wood-pallet factory and export company, and to serve as president of the Minnesota World Trade Center and as chairman of his hometown planning commission.
“I came to the conclusion that, not in all cases, but way too many people stayed in this town too long,” Nolan said. After more than three decades away from Congress, Nolan said he stepped back onto the national stage last year after watching tea party-backed Republicans try to undo reforms he had helped enact.
“I served well and effectively the first time and I’m proud of that,” he said. “I’m going to try and repeat it again.”
Unlike Nolan, the other House Democrats coming back for a second act all lost re-election during the 2010 tea party-tide: Reps.-elect Ann Kirkpatrick, Ariz.; Bill Foster, Ill.; Carol Shea-Porter, N.H.; Dan Maffei, N.Y.; Dina Titus, Nev.; and Alan Grayson, Fla.
Five of them, including Nolan, scored political revenge by unseating freshmen tea-party Republicans.
The former Republican coming back is Steve Stockman of Texas, who was elected in 1994 as part of the “Gingrich Revolution” but lost his seat in 1996. (He did not respond to requests for comment.)
At last week’s orientation sessions for new members joining the 113th Congress, Foster was sporting the gold-and-red lapel pin worn by lawmakers during the 111th Congress. “This pin voted for TARP and the health-care reform law,” he said. “I don’t have a pin from the tea-party Congress, something I will never miss.”
Already familiar with the mechanics of Congress, Foster, a physicist and amateur iPad app developer, predicted this year’s election results will force his GOP colleagues to relent on certain issues.
“If they don’t compromise on things like the ‘fiscal cliff’ and immigration reform, then in two years they will be seen as a party that has produced not two years of zero productivity, but four years,” he said. “And under those circumstances, it will not end well for the Republican Party.”
Shea-Porter said she had expected to lose in 2010 after strongly supporting health-care reform, which deeply divided the nation. “But if you don’t come down here to make a difference, then what are you doing here?” she said.
During her two-year absence, Shea-Porter wrote a newspaper column, trained liberal activists and spent time with her mother, who died last year.
“It’s definitely easier the second time around,” she said last week, referring to the task of moving to Washington and setting up shop.
Nolan’s first stint in Congress came during a bygone era when lawmakers worked and raised families in Washington and socialized together regardless of party. “I don’t apologize for saying we ought to go back to the old days,” Nolan said. During his first year in Congress, he said the House met for 48 out of 52 weeks, usually from Monday to Friday. This year the House is to meet for about 32 weeks, usually from Tuesday night through Friday morning.
“Republicans would argue that under the new schedule they’re spending a great deal more time at home with their constituents,” Nolan said. “But at some point you have to govern.”
Amid all the change, Nolan seemed unaccustomed to a political culture that no longer reveres congressmen and frazzled by ethics rules likely to put a crimp in his social schedule.
“We obviously have to have rules and ethics, but I just think that they’ve gotten too far when you literally have to call somebody on the House ethics committee to have dinner with a neighbor or go fishing in your neighbor’s boat,” he said. “If anybody does anything for you that’s in excess of $9.99 you’ve got to get an approval.”
Florida’s St. Lucie County missed a deadline for recounting ballots cast in U.S. Rep. Allen West’s re-election race, potentially sealing Democrat Patrick Murphy’s victory over the first-term Republican.
The county failed to process its recount by noon Sunday as required, which would leave in place an earlier tally that left West about 1,900 votes behind Murphy, according to Tim Edson, West’s campaign manager. West, a favorite of the tea-party movement, was elected in 2010 to represent the district, which also includes part of Palm Beach County.
Ron Barber, a Democrat, won Gabrielle Giffords’ 2nd Congressional District in Arizona, defeating Republican Martha McSally in a race in which the lead in the vote count fluctuated after election night.
Barber was completing the remainder of Democrat Giffords’ term before winning a full term in this election, receiving 143,173 votes to McSally’s 141,771 with all precincts reporting Saturday, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.
Giffords, 42, was shot in the head from point-blank range at a constituent event outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011, by Jared Lee Loughner, 24. The three-term Democrat resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recovery.
Includes material from Bloomberg News