- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

BATON ROUGE, La. — Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, one of a dwindling number of conservative Southern Democrats, announced yesterday that he would not seek a fourth term.

“There comes a time in every career when it is time to step aside and allow others to step up and serve, and for my family and me, that time has arrived.” said Mr. Breaux, 59, in an emotionally charged 10-minute news conference.

Democrats had been fearing Mr. Breaux’s decision, not only because he was a shoo-in for re-election, but also because he is the fifth Southern Democrat to announce that he won’t seek re-election next year.

The other open seats that Democrats must defend are in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

As Mr. Breaux’s voice faltered when thanking his wife, Lois, his audience laughed and applauded when he added, “But I’m not leaving today.”

“There’s still a lot to get done in this Congress,” he said. “We have the energy bill that still needs to be passed, and I want to get started on legislation for the 40 million Americans who have no health insurance.”

Of his role in the Senate as a consensus-builder, Mr. Breaux said, “My sincere hope is that future Congresses will be able to pursue the center-out type of coalitions that I have advocated.”

Mr. Breaux said he planned to continue public involvement “but in a different capacity.”

Mr. Breaux’s retirement also assures that Louisiana will be a major battleground in the 2004 Senate elections. Republicans almost unseated Sen. Mary L. Landrieu last year, but the Democrats held the seat and also recaptured the governorship last month. Louisiana is the only Southern state that still has not elected a Republican senator since Reconstruction.

Mrs. Landrieu, who has followed Mr. Breaux’s lead as a centrist, said of his decision, “I was hopeful that John’s decision today would have been different, but we are all very grateful for his many years of service and the great legacy he leaves to Louisiana and to our nation.”

Rep. Chris John, a conservative Democrat who represents the House district Mr. Breaux once represented and who is known to be interested in succeeding him, paid tribute to Mr. Breaux as “at the top of the class — as an individual, a United States senator and a public servant.”

Mr. Breaux has followed in the footsteps of two Louisiana political legends. He first came to Congress in 1968 as aide to Rep. Edwin W. Edwards. After Mr. Edwards was elected to the first of four terms as governor, Mr. Breaux was elected to his House seat in southwestern Louisiana in 1972. When five-term Sen. Russell B. Long retired in 1986, Mr. Breaux was elected to succeed him.

In his three terms, he authored the Wetlands Preservation Act, served as chairman of the National Bipartisan Committee for the Future of Medicare, was co-chairman of the National Committee on Retirement Policy that engineered Social Security reform, and recently was instrumental in hammering out the final compromise on the Medicare prescription-drug bill.

New Orleans pollster and political analyst Ed Renwick called Mr. Breaux’s retirement “a major political event.”

“Louisiana will know it has lost its clout in Washington,” he said.

Nationally, Mr. Renwick added, “He’s a key vote in the Senate, and he’s known as a great compromiser who put together a majority coalition, which is very important with the Senate polarized the way it is.”

Besides Mr. John, Mr. Renwick said Republican Rep. David Vitter of Metairie has expressed an interest in running for Mr. Breaux’s seat.

Louisiana political historian Gordon Harvey said Bobby Jindal, a Republican wunderkind who narrowly lost last month’s gubernatorial runoff to Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, is a logical possibility, and said Rep. William J. Jefferson, a black Democrat from New Orleans, also might be interested.

But Mr. Renwick said he doubted Mr. Jindal would split the Republican vote if Mr. Vitter entered the fray and also had doubts about Mr. Jefferson.

“He ran for governor [in 1999] and didn’t do very well,” he said.

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