- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina announced Thursday he won’t seek a fourth term, saying he never intended to be career politician.

The Democrat said he reached his decision earlier this week after pondering — and then deciding against — a bid for governor after Gov. Bev Perdue’s decision not to run.

“It is a decision I have weighed heavily over the past few months,” Mr. Shuler said in a prepared statement. “I have always said family comes first, and I never intended to be a career politician. I am ready to refocus my priorities and spend more time at home with my wife Nikol and two young children.”

The lawmaker, who was a real estate investor before his initial election to Congress in 2006, hasn’t indicated what he will do next.

“Reducing our $15 trillion national debt and crafting bipartisan solutions to the many problems facing our nation remain my highest priorities,” he said. “Leaving Congress will give me the opportunity to focus my time and energy on these initiatives without the constant demands of a re-election campaign.”

Mr. Shuler, 40, who is among a dwindling crew of moderate Blue Dog Democrats in the Republican-controlled House, won a third two-year term in 2010 with 54 percent of the vote.

He faced the prospect of a tough re-election campaign in his rural western North Carolina district, particularly after state Republican lawmakers redrew it last year, making it more GOP-friendly. The Cook Political Report last week rated the race as a “Democratic toss-up,” and most political experts now predict the district will turn Republican.

But Republican supporters of stronger immigration rules will lose an ally in Mr. Shuler, who often crossed party lines and supported the GOP’s get-tough approach to border security.

Mr. Shuler, who serves on the House budget and transportation and infrastructure committees, unsuccessfully challenged Nancy Pelosi for House minority leader in late 2010.

Mrs. Pelosi on Thursday called Mr. Shuler “a national leader for fiscal responsibility who has always maintained a laser-like focus on his constituents in western North Carolina.”

Mr. Shuler was a first-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 1994 after a standout football career at the University of Tennessee. The quarterback played briefly for the Redskins before he was traded to the New Orleans Saints. He retired after playing four years in the National Football League after suffering from a serious foot injury.