UPDATE: The exodus from Congress reached a milestone on Tuesday with a retirement announcement from Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and the powerful speech he gave in explaining his decision to leave the Senate.
In Washington, the political establishment is starting to realize that Candice Miller has no regrets over her abrupt decision in 2015 to quit Congress, return home to Macomb County, and run for a local government post.
In fact, Miller is now viewed inside the Beltway as somewhat of a trailblazer who was ahead of the curve.
A feature story on the Harrison Township Republican published today by The Atlantic magazine details, with a bit of wonderment, Miller’s self-satisfying career detour from a rising GOP force in the House to a county public works commissioner in charge of sewers and drains.
The piece carries this catchy headline: “The Republican Who Left Congress to Drain an Actual Swamp.”
Actually, Miller dealt with the catastrophic sewer collapse and sinkhole in Fraser, not a metaphoric matter in the bowels of Congress. Then again, draining a pond of raw sewage is certainly a dirtier job than draining a political swamp.
Miller told an Atlantic political reporter/editor who covers Congress, Russell Berman, that she enjoys the hands-on, pragmatic approach of her new job, as opposed to the constant frustrations of Capitol Hill gridlock.
She described how she was lowered into the sinkhole crater in a device similar to a shark cage used by sea divers so that she could get a good look at the leaking sewer pipe.
Here’s what Berman wrote:
That a veteran politician would find more satisfaction being lowered into a pit of sewage than making national policy in Washington says a lot about the state of Congress at the moment. Ordinarily, it’s the members of the minority party who flee the Capitol in droves after a few years out of power, once they get sufficiently tired of seeing their legislative proposals squelched without so much as a hearing.
But in the last few years, Republicans have suffered as much of an exodus as Democrats have, and … like the others, Miller was neither swept out by the voters nor forced out by a scandal’s disgrace. She just got tired of the dysfunction and knew it was time to leave a job she never planned to hold for so long.
So far this year, 12 members of the House have announced they will be retiring or they have abruptly headed for the exits. In the Senate, Bob Corker of Tennessee is giving up the powerful chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee to retire after two six-year terms — in a chamber where longevity is measured in decades. Michigan Congressman David Trott of Birmingham decided last month he’d had it with Washington just nine months into his third year in office. His decision not to run again in 2018 has not produced the flood of candidates that an open congressional seat would normally generate in southeast Michigan.
Last week, Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio followed in the footsteps of Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah in announcing plans to leave before his term is up. Chaffetz gave up his high-profile post to become a commentator on Fox News. Tiberi, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, forfeits his top priority by likely leaving before comprehensive tax reform is enacted.
Miller describes the “very insidious” atmosphere within the Capitol, where opportunities to move up in seniority and gain a committee chairmanship are tantalizing for lawmakers. First elected in 2002, Miller eventually secured the chair position of a key subcommittee on homeland security. More recently, she emerged as the only female committee chair in the Republican-controlled House when she was put in charge of the Administration Committee, which deals with day-to-day operations of the lower chamber rather than, as she told The Atlantic, “passing bills that go out into the ether somewhere, never to be heard from again.”
In Lansing, as in Washington, Miller’s career choices sparked disbelief among veteran politicians, political operatives and lobbyists. When earlier this year polls showed Miller running ahead in the 2018 gubernatorial race, the politicos thought that, for sure, she will make a run for governor. But she declined. Miller’s decision to stay close to home, beside her ailing husband, trumped any thoughts of reaching for the brass ring.
In the end, it was a congressional fight over a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that convinced Miller it was time for a change. She has since forgotten the details of that petty fight, but it led to the unusual timing of her decision, announcing in spring 2015 that she would not run for re-election in November 2016.
“I just thought to myself, ‘This is crazy,’” she recalled. “This place is so dysfunctional.”