- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas announced yesterday he will not run for re-election next year, becoming the second leading conservative in recent weeks to choose retirement over a minority role in the Senate.
"It's an emotional moment when you end a 25-year career," said Mr. Gramm, who choked up and wept several times at a news conference at the Capitol. "But this is a happy day. I'm heading for Texas, for the ranch, for freedom."
Republicans predicted they would hold on to Mr. Gramm's seat in their bid to regain the Senate majority next year — the GOP currently holds all statewide offices in Texas. But his announcement nevertheless set off a virtual stampede of candidates in both parties seeking to replace him.
Mr. Gramm's decision creates the Senate's third opening for the 2002 elections in seats now held by Republicans — Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina also will retire.
The balance of power in the Senate now stands at 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent. A total of 20 Senate Republicans are up for election next year, compared with 14 Democrats. No Democrats are retiring, but Republicans believe several Democratic incumbents are vulnerable, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey.
Mr. Gramm, 59, told his fellow Texan, President Bush, of his decision by telephone and said Mr. Bush was "not happy" but supportive.
Speculation about Mr. Gramm's departure had been increasing since June, when the defection of Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican Party caused Senate Republicans to lose the majority. Mr. Gramm, a relentless tax-cutter and fiscal conservative, lost the chairmanship of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the power shift.
But the third-term senator said the loss of his committee post had nothing to do with his decision.
"I think we have an excellent chance of taking the Senate back," Mr. Gramm said.
Oddly, Mr. Bush's victory in November made his retirement possible, he said.
"Had Vice President [Al] Gore won, I couldn't have not run again," Mr. Gramm said. "We got a president that I have total confidence in. The country's in good hands. And it gives me the luxury of doing what I'm doing."
While he insisted he intends to retire to his ranch, Mr. Gramm did not rule out the $260,000-a-year post of Texas A&M; University president. He taught economics at the school for 12 years before getting elected to Congress in 1978.
"I love Texas A&M;," Mr. Gramm said. "But … when something is as close to you as that is to me, maybe it would be best if I weren't on their payroll. So I don't know."
The current A&M; president, Ray Bowen, will step down in June 2002. Brenda Sims, spokeswoman for A&M;, said the university has only just begun the recruitment process.
"Whoever is selected as president will be assessed by the presidential search committee and ultimately the chancellor and the Board of Regents," she said. "So far we have no candidates and no nominees."
The university's top job comes with a 7,000-square-foot Georgian Colonial home, complete with three fireplaces and wood-beam ceilings.
Mr. Gramm's departure will leave a big hole in the leadership of congressional conservatives. He has been at the forefront of legislation to balance the federal budget, trim spending and cut taxes. Even as he was announcing his retirement yesterday, Mr. Gramm was urging Congress to cut capital gains taxes.
"He's just probably the most important utility player we have in the Senate, and it's almost impossible in the short term to replace a guy like Phil Gramm," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. "He's going to be here for 16 more months, and he's going to make life interesting and entertaining for all of us."
Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, expressed regret that Mr. Gramm is retiring.
"We all know, however, that Texas is Bush Country — and Gramm Country — and we are confident that Texans will elect another strong, committed, and honorable Republican as their senator," Mr. Frist said.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, called it "a particularly sad day for me."
"Phil is one of my heroes," Mr. Armey said. "He's been on the side of the taxpayers at every turn. He's leaving a big pair of boots to fill."
Mr. Gramm rose to prominence in 1981 when, as a Democratic House member, he worked with the Reagan administration to write a budget that rebuilt the military and cut taxes.
After his 1982 re-election, Mr. Gramm quit the Democratic Party and his seat, then won it back in a special election as a Republican in 1983. He won his Senate seat in 1984.
Mr. Gramm said he was proud to be part of "the Reagan program that tore down the Berlin Wall, that liberated Eastern Europe, that transformed the Soviet Union, and that changed the world. I know that no victory is ever final. But what better time to call it a career than when you've finished the work that you were initially sent to Washington to do?"
Mr. Gramm has been denying for weeks that he would retire. He said he made his announcement long before next year's campaign because "I'm not very good at saying things that I know is not so."
As he spoke to reporters, he was surrounded by dozens of his staffers and his wife, Wendy. Mr. Gramm became especially emotional when he mentioned the time he had spent apart from his family in politics.
But he added, "I can leave the Senate at the end of this term with absolute confidence that a Republican will win my seat."


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