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OPINION - Petri's retirement

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) When you retire, it's a good time to look back at your accomplishments. Congressman Tom Petri did that yesterday. What's he most proud of? The money he brought back to his district mostly military contracts for Oshkosh Corporation. And he's quick to point out that it was money that was already being spent. If he didn't bring home the bacon, some other congressman would have secured the money for their district.

Petri is a moderate Republican. The party tolerated him as the GOP became more conservative because he was a reliable vote on most issues. And his was the ultimate safe seat. He won reelection most years on name recognition alone, and because he was supported by some democrats in his district since he was never a firebrand.

But Petri is the antithesis of a citizen-lawmaker. When he retires in January, 2015 he'll have spent 36 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before that he was in the Wisconsin State Senate for 6 more. During that tenure he made unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate (losing to Gaylord Nelson) and for Governor (failing to get the nomination at the state convention). Petri has spent almost his entire adult life holding elected office; a career politician.

Petri is not a bad man. I admire his service in the Peace Corps. He gets most of the issues right, if we overlook his votes against ANWAR oil drilling in Alaska and on raising the debt ceiling. But he's not a budget-cutter. He's not a reformer. (Petri's signature achievement is changing the highway funding formula, but it changes the way the money is divided among the states.) Here is someone whos been in office forever. Have things in Washington gotten better or worse while Tom Petri was there? The answer suggests his retirement is the right choice.

Chris Conley

Image: Rep. Tom Petri, via Wikicommons.com