It became official today when a former boss of mine announced his retirement. Working in Congress is a very tough job. At this point in time, both elected officials I served under have announced that this is their last term.

One left at the height of power, having served in Congress since I was a toddler. He argued in front of the Supreme Court before I was even born.

The other left while he was on the move up the ranks to spend more time with his family — and I know that to be true.

Truman said that “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” What is not often reported is the effect that working/serving in Congress has on families and relationships is hard — and there’s a term for it “Hill Widows.” Many people lose their families (kind of like Leo McGarry in the West Wing) and some have their relationships destroyed and personal lives strained working there.

What I learned from these two distinguished gentlemen is that they chose to serve the public, leaving their productive lives in “the real world” for lesser pay, long hours, and often times, the ire and outright hatred of some voters.

Not many people I know would quit something they love doing to get less money, less privacy, and have people in the press/blogosphere say nasty things about them. Not to mention less free time to spend with the ones you love.

Both are true public servants and I wish them the best as they come back to a somewhat normal life. 

Frankly, their decisions to retire restored my faith in the system, not that I wanted either to retire. My two former bosses are not alone. Even Rep. Barney Frank (much despised by Republicans) made that decision to retire, as have Senators Lieberman, Conrad, Akaka, Kohl, Webb (after one term!) and Reps. Boren, Cardoza, and Woolsey. For every story you hear about elected officials, like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd holding onto their seats until their dying day, you never seem to hear the multitude of stories about lesser known members riding off into the sunset. That is unfortunate, since it gives off the perception that members stay there forever and fuels uninformed debate.

While I don’t personally believe in term limits (since we have the opportunity to vote out our elected officials out every two, four, or six years) it is refreshing to know that some in Congress can choose to leave the institution to live a normal life again.

One thing is for sure, even for those who staffed in Congress, once you’ve stepped through the looking glass, life can never be the same.

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4 Thoughts on “Retirement

  1. Walter E. Pack on December 16, 2011 at 11:03 am said:

    EXCELLANT!!! It tells IT as I feel. I quit a higher paying job to get closer to home, less driving, home sooner. Then I retired at 62 to get away from continual stress. It paid off, I am now 89.5. The person that replaced me and stayed, “passed”at 71. Remember Jim, “Enjoy EACH day, there are NO guaranteed tomorrows”.Please send me your E-mail address. I had PC problems. Thanks! Old Walt (the opinionator)

  2. Jim,

    That was a very poignant and well-written essay.

    In summation, I am looking forward to reading more of your political prose and to gain further insight on what it is like to work on The Hill, as I am pursuing that for my own career.

    Thank you, sir.

    Dillard Sanders IV
    Senior Political Science Major
    Tulane University
    New Orleans, LA

  3. Mary Rose on December 16, 2011 at 5:10 pm said:

    Jim thanks for sharing your insight.

  4. This is spot-on. I don’t think constituents realize how hard it is on elected officials and their families to move to Washington. If you relocate your family to DC, you’ve “gone native” and you’re and insider and you get voted out. So a lot of very dedicated family men and and women are coerced by voters to leave their families in other time zones, only to visit them on weekends, when they’re expected to be meeting with constituents.

    My first boss on the Hill recently decided to relinquish his otherwise safe seat, and I don’t blame him in the slightest. So far as I know he didn’t have any major family problems as a result of a multi-year weekly commute, but the logistics of his home life dissuaded me from ever wanting to run for higher office.

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