This isn’t an especially good April Fool’s Day, for a reason you might not suspect.
In the last few days, we’ve learned that our state is going to be considerably weaker in terms of political clout in Washington than we have been in many years.
Yesterday, Congressman Dave Camp of Midland, R-Michigan, the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, suddenly announced he wouldn’t run for reelection.
Last week, his colleague, Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, announced he too was leaving, to become a conservative radio talk show host.
This follows the earlier retirements of John Dingell, D-Michigan, the longest-serving member in the history of Congress, and Senator Carl Levin, D-Michigan, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
That means at least one-fourth of our congressional delegation won’t be back next year. Together, those four retiring members have 133 years of seniority and experience.
What’s more, they may not be the only Michigan congressmen who won’t be back.
Four others, all Republicans, face stiff primary and/or general election challenges: Justin Amash, Dan Benishek, Kerry Bentivolio, and Tim Walberg.
John Conyers, D-Michigan, the 85-year-old congressman from Detroit, also faces a primary challenge, but is expected to survive. However, given his age, you never say never.
The retirements of Dingell and Levin, while newsworthy, were scarcely shocking.
John Dingell will be 88 this summer; while mentally sound, age has physically weakened him, and he was stripped of most of his once-formidable powers a few years ago.
Carl Levin could have won re-election without breaking a sweat, but he would have been 86 at the end of another term.
However, the retirements of Rogers and Camp are shocking.
Both are relatively young men by Washington standards. Camp is 60; Rogers 50. Both had completely safe seats, and could have been re-elected forever, but today’s Washington is not the place it was.
Twenty years ago, nobody could have dreamed someone would give up a committee chairmanship for a radio show. But these days, those chairmanships rotate. It is possible that Rogers sees a media career as a way to build a national following.
Camp’s retirement is more mysterious because he gave no reason, and it comes only three weeks before the deadline to file to run.
He did have cancer two years ago, but made an apparent full recovery. However, he would have to have given up his chairmanship next year. Over the last year or so, he threw a lot of energy into a major effort to reform the nation’s tax system, but his plan was essentially ignored, even by his fellow Republicans.
These retirements won’t seem devastating to some, because few of our long-serving congressmen did much to get big pork barrel spending projects diverted to Michigan, but many of them did protect our state’s interests in a number of areas. Their successors’ ability to do that will be far weaker.
And consider this.
Over the last quarter century, population shifts have caused us to lose five seats in the House of Representatives, equivalent to the entire delegation of Connecticut.
Next year, Michigan will be weaker in Washington than we’ve been in ages, just when we need powerful friends, perhaps, more than ever.