Democrats exiting the sinking ship? Part 29: Rep. David Obey 

The Associated Press is reporting that Congressman David Obey, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, will not run for reelection.

This is pretty shocking news.

Obey is one of the most senior members of the House; he was first elected in a special election in 1969 to replace Republican Mel Laird, who had been appointed Defense Secretary by Richard Nixon. Obey had served in the Wisconsin legislature before that. He is known for his angry temper, particularly at House colleagues or members of the public he considers ill-informed. I see him as something of a “happy warrior” in the tradition of Hubert Humphrey, a true believer in expanding government to serve the little guy, rough hewn perhaps but also a hard worker and a master of detail.

This year he attracted an active Republican opponent, Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy, and his district is not as overwhelmingly Democratic as those of most House Democratic leaders; it voted 56%-42% for Barack Obama in 2008. Obama had close races in the Republican years of 1994 and 1996, and perhaps he didn’t relish another tough race (Duffy comes from the most Democratic part of the district, along Lake Superior) in the year he turns 72. Or perhaps he feels that in fashioning the 2009 stimulus package which expanded government and providing strong support for the 2010 health care bill he has accomplished most of his goals and can leave the House—and end a political career which has lasted just about all his adult life—with a sense of satisfaction.

I can’t help thinking that when he joined the House Obey had a Wisconsin colleague who had been in office almost all his adult life and who also made a major impact, Republican Bill Steiger, who played a major role in establishing the all-volunteer military and passing the 1978 capital gains tax cut before he died later that year at age 40. I have heard Obey speak respectfully and warmly of Steiger, and I think it’s appropriate to speak of Obey in the same tone—a determined partisan who has worked hard, played by the rules and worked skillfully to make policy changes he believed were good for our country.

View Michael Barone’s 2010 “Sinking Ship” Election map

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