- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rep. Jerry Lewis, a conservative stalwart in Congress for more than three decades and a former chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, on Thursday became the third California Republican this year to announce his retirement.

Mr. Lewis, 77, who has represented the San Bernardino County area of Southern California since 1979, said he will serve out his term, which expires next January.

“After months of consultation with loved ones and family, my wife Arlene and I have decided to retire from public life,” he said in a prepared statement. “We are deeply grateful to so many who have provided their support over the years. I have worked hard to justify that support.”

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, called Mr. Lewis “a steadfast public servant whose commitment to job creation and opportunity for California families and businesses empowered his accomplished congressional service.”

Mr. Lewis is the third House Republican from California to retire this month. Rep. Wally Herger, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, announced Tuesday he will step down next January after serving his 13th term. Last week, Rep. Elton Gallegly said he wouldn’t seek a 14th term.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blamed “tea party extremism” for pushing Mr. Lewis and other House Republicans from office.

“House Republicans from California know they can’t defend their extreme agenda to voters in 2012, and their mounting retirements create the latest Democratic opportunity that put the House in play,” said DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

But redistricting, which has significantly altered the congressional map in California and has forced many incumbents into potentially precarious re-election battles, has been blamed as a major influence affecting retirement decisions.

Mr. Lewis‘ retirement decision prompted Republican Rep. Gary G. Miller to announce he would seek re-election in California’s newly redrawn 31st Congressional District, where Mr. Lewis reportedly had been looking at running. Instead, his retiring means Mr. Miller could opt to run in the 31st District rather than challenge fellow Republican Rep. Edward R. Royce in the new 39th Congressional District, where both lawmakers live.

Mr. Lewis, who was in the California Legislature before his congressional career, has served in Congress longer than any Republican in California history.

He rose through the ranks of the Republican House leadership, eventually ascending to the No. 3 spot when he was elected Republican Conference chairman in 1988, a position he held until 1992.

Mr. Lewis served on the Appropriations Committee for most of his House career and was chairman from 2005 through 2006.

The Justice Department investigated accusations he improperly steered tens of millions of dollars in spending projects to clients of a friend and former colleague, but ended the probe in 2010 without taking any further action. Mr. Lewis denied any wrongdoing.