WASHINGTON — George Radanovich is back home.
The Mariposa County native spent 16 years, more than one-quarter of his life, serving in Congress. Now, that chapter done. He's left Capitol Hill for the California mountains from which he came, and he's brought the remains of his family with him.
"It's wonderful, wonderful," Radanovich said in a telephone interview. "It was an honor to serve, but we were always Californians; we always knew when we finished we would be coming back."
Radanovich's term formally expired Monday, with the start of the new 112th Congress. Republican Jeff Denham of Atwater will be sworn in Wednesday to represent Radanovich's 19th Congressional District, which joins Stanislaus and Fresno counties via the Sierra Nevada.
The district changed since Radanovich first won election in 1994. It became more Republican and shifted north toward Modesto. Radanovich, too, has changed; not least, in his attitude toward Congress. Though the 55-year-old Republican is not ready to reveal his next venture, he stresses it goes beyond traditional politics.
"People ought not to expect Washington to solve the country's problems," Radanovich said. "The culture must be changed ... and I'm going to dedicate myself to reforming our culture."
The House kept some hooks in Radanovich until nearly the last minute. He took his final congressional red-eye flight from California on the night of Dec. 20, because of the possibility that an Armenian genocide resolution favored by San Joaquin Valley Armenian-Americans might come to a vote. In the end, it did not.
In many ways, though, Radanovich cut his congressional ties some time ago. His Modesto and Fresno district offices closed Dec. 15. He last voted Dec. 7, while the House remained in session through Dec. 22.
But Radanovich had other priorities beyond sticking around for end-of-term legislative ephemera. Most poignantly, he has a motherless boy to raise.
Radanovich's son, King, is 12. He was moved to Mariposa in August, in time for the new school year. In Mariposa, King plays basketball and is enveloped by an extended Radanovich family. He is also far from the northern Virginia neighborhood where his mother, Ethie Weaver Radanovich, passed away Feb. 4.
Ethie Radanovich's death followed a three-year bout with ovarian cancer, a debilitating ordeal that shaped Radanovich's own House career.
"For my wife, I would have moved heaven and earth, done anything, to make her well," Radanovich said.
Once Ethie died, Radanovich had to explicitly juggle political and parental duties. On the hectic weekend last March that the House passed health care legislation, for instance, King Radanovich was camped out in his father's fourth-floor House office. At home, there was no babysitter.
Radanovich stayed in California during much of the post-election lame-duck session.
"He's taking his parental responsibilities as his first responsibilities, as he should," said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
Radanovich was a single man, his hair fuller and not yet gray, when he was first elected to the House of Representatives. A former Mariposa County supervisor, he defeated Democratic incumbent Rick Lehman amid a national Republican wave.
Radanovich had run on a staunchly conservative platform, which included a term limits pledge that he later reversed, and calls for the elimination of the federal departments of education and housing and urban development. Once on Capitol Hill, he had to adapt.
"He was a rural kid, coming out of rural California to Washington," said John McCamman, a former Mariposa County administrative officer and Radanovich's first chief of staff. "It was an eye opener."
Throughout his congressional career, Radanovich has carefully tended to Yosemite National Park and other local priorities while he's retained a down-to-earth demeanor praised by Democrats and Republicans alike.
"People genuinely like him," said Modesto-based political consultant Mike Lynch, a Democrat. "He's always a gentleman, always respectful, and he's always been accessible."
Legislatively, Radanovich has sometimes struggled. His proposal to designate California's Highway 49 as a "national heritage corridor" alienated fellow conservatives who feared it would invite more federal control. Other proposals, too, fell by the wayside.
"It was never my dream to finally become a chairman and enact legislation that had my name on it," Radanovich said.
Radanovich's most far-reaching legislative achievement, pushing the House version of a San Joaquin River restoration bill, is one he calls "a necessary evil." The 2009 bill authorizes new water flows, channel improvements and eventually the return of salmon to the river. It also aggravated bad relations with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
Nunes now speaks kindly of Radanovich, and Radanovich says he has no interest in revisiting questions about a relationship whose tensions were long obvious on Capitol Hill.
This is another benefit of leaving Congress, Radanovich suggests with a laugh: He no longer need answer every question put to him. As a House member, everything from his $174,000 annual salary to his stock portfolio has been a matter of public record.
Now, a private citizen once more, George Radanovich can keep to himself when he wants.
"There have been a lot of trials and tribulations he's had to manage," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, "and he's coped with them in a stoic way. He's managed as well as anyone could."