California Rep. Dennis Cardoza resigns, citing family issues

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 14, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Citing sensitive family needs, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, Calif., has tendered his immediate resignation from the House of Representatives and joined a lobbying firm. The surprisingly timed departure takes effect at midnight Wednesday.

A veteran San Joaquin Valley politician first elected to the House in 2002, the 53-year-old Cardoza will be joining the law-and-lobbying powerhouse Manatt, Phelps and Phillips in its Washington, D.C., office.

Cardoza had previously announced he would not run for reelection. While citing the toxic partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, he primarily attributed his speeded-up timing to growing burdens on the home front.

“In light of the fact that nothing is going to happen for the rest of the year, and in light of the fact that (my wife) and I are facing increasing parenting challenges, this seemed the right time to make this move,” Cardoza said in an interview Monday.

Cardoza and his wife, Kathleen McLoughlin, have three children: a biological daughter and two adopted siblings. The adopted children, a brother and sister originally from Kern County, joined the Cardoza household in 2000 after living in foster homes. They are now teenagers.

Cardoza has previously spoken publicly, in general terms, about the dangers posed to foster-care children exposed at a young age to unstable households and drugs like methamphetamine, and he has won bipartisan praise for legislation he’s introduced to address some of the related problems. He said his children’s privacy rights prevent him from offering more details about their current status.

“My wife and I have been meeting these increasing challenges of parenting,” Cardoza said.

Other lawmakers have made similar choices, drawing attention to the constant tension between keeping a family and enduring the long hours and constant travel required of members of Congress. Last month, similarly citing an unspecified “family health issue,” Kentucky Republican Geoff Davis announced his immediate resignation. Joe Scarborough, now an MSNBC personality, cited his children in 2001 when he resigned five months into his fourth House term.

A senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, and a one-time member of the extended House leadership team, Cardoza said some job feelers were extended to him soon after he announced his retirement plans. He said he did not pursue the opportunities at the time. On Monday, he expressed interest in potentially serving on some corporate boards and in investment banking.

“I’m not leaving my service to the Valley,” Cardoza said. “I’ll just be doing it from a different venue.”

Several hours after news broke of Cardoza’s resignation Tuesday afternoon, the Manatt firm announced he would be joining the company. He is not a lawyer, though he has worked in local, state and federal government for years.

“His expertise with California issues, as well as his deep experience and insight into both federal and state affairs, makes him a terrific resource,” said Jim Bonham, chairman of the firm’s federal government affairs and public policy group.

The Manatt firm, some of whose leaders have long been associated with the Democratic Party, is currently registered to lobby for clients ranging from the City of West Sacramento and Del Monte Foods to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, among others.

Under current ethics rules, Cardoza will be able to offer strategic and tactical advice immediately, but must refrain from formal lobbying for a year. Cardoza said he signed recusal documents when he began negotiating with the Manatt firm, roughly 10 days ago.

The timing of Cardoza’s resignation means there will be no special election to fill his 18th Congressional District seat, which encompasses parts of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. His office staff will remain, taking care of constituent services but steering clear of political advocacy. Cardoza informed most of his staffers of his resignation plans in an emotional telephone conference call Monday.

His departure leaves House Republicans with a 240-190 majority over Democrats, with five House vacancies; by most political assessments, Republicans are favored to retain control of the House following the November elections.

Cardoza had announced last October he would not run for reelection, after the bipartisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission carved the San Joaquin Valley into new House districts. The redistricting essentially left Cardoza the choice of either retiring or facing off against his longtime friend and ally, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Cardoza entered his political career as a staffer for former state assemblyman and later Congressman Gary Condit. Although their relationship soured when Cardoza challenged a politically weakened Condit in 2002 – the two men haven’t spoken in the past 10 years – Cardoza retained several key Condit staffers and on Monday he offered praise for his onetime mentor.

The House is currently out on summer recess. It’s expected to be in session for only about seven working days in September, and then will adjourn again in October so members can campaign. A lame-duck session will occur between November and January, though with uncertain prospects for finishing any work.

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