Rep. Sam Farr Retires, Opening Fourth Calif. Congressional Seat in 2016

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Sam Farr (Official photo)

Carmel Democratic Rep. Sam Farr's retirement Thursday was sudden, but not shocking: Farr is 74 years old and has served in Congress for more than two decades.

"I think what really hit me is this becoming 75 and realizing, 'Oh my God, my body is not going to be healthy forever, so I’d rather have some healthy years like my grandchildren.' And I watched people stay in Congress too long, and I didn’t want to be like them," Farr said Thursday while announcing he will not seek re-election next year.

But Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said there's something else at play, too: Farr is not the only senior Democrat to retire recently, either in California or nationally. In fact, 21 of the state's 52 congressional representatives have been elected in the past five years

"The average seniority in Congress has fluctuated over the years -- recently, we are seeing Democrats often retiring at somewhat higher rate than Republicans," Pitney said. "Here's the problem for Democrats in the House of Representatives ... if you are in the minority party you have practically no chance of enacting major legislation under your own name.

"It's very frustrating," he added. 

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Frustration Over Gridlock

Farr alluded to that frustration in his Thursday remarks.

"Who comes after me is going to have a tough time because of the gridlock," he said, but struck a hopeful note. "But a lot of things can still be done on the energy of the individual and ability to find common ground. That’s what I’ve done."

The Democrats' minority status may have also played a role in Santa Barbara Rep. Lois Capps' resignation announcement earlier this year. She is also a Democrat and in her 70s, and she was also elected in the 1990s.

Farr and Capps are among four congressional Democrats from the Golden State who are stepping down this year; Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, is running for Los Angeles County supervisor and Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana, is hoping to succeed Sen. Barbara Boxer.

But only Capps' seat is considered competitive; the districts of Farr, Hahn and Sanchez are all safely Democratic.

Legislative Record

Farr helped create Cal State Monterey Bay and authored legislation to turn Pinnacles National Monument into a national park. He served on the powerful Appropriations Committee and was a champion for veterans. He co-authored the groundbreaking 2015 budget amendment that prevents the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana patients who are in compliance with state laws.

“For 23 years in the Congress, Sam Farr has served as a tenacious, far-sighted champion for California’s Central Coast and hard-working families across America," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a written statement. "With a career in public service that stretches across five decades, Congressman Farr has truly devoted his life building a better future for his communities, our country and our world."