- The Washington Times - Monday, January 25, 2010

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Rep. Marion Berry, Arkansas Democrat, announced Monday that he was retiring, citing health concerns as he became the second congressman in the state to scrap a re-election bid.

“The people deserve a representative who has the ability to rise to the numerous challenges that face our state and our nation,” Mr. Berry said in a statement. “As a lifelong farmer, time has taken its toll on my health and I am no longer able to serve the district with the vitality I once possessed.”

Mr. Berry told staffers and friends on Sunday that he planned to announce his retirement, and he had offered hints over the past week that he was reconsidering his bid for an eighth term. The 67-year-old Mr. Berry first was elected to his congressional seat representing the 1st District in east Arkansas after serving in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to the president for agricultural trade and food assistance.

In 2008, he was re-elected without opposition. This year, he faced opposition from Republican Rick Crawford, who owns a regional agricultural radio network.

Mr. Berry repeatedly said he had no plans to retire, but he fueled speculation last week when he told a radio interviewer asking about his re-election plans that “nothing is certain in this world but death.”

“There has not been this much turmoil in Arkansas politics in a long time,” Mr. Berry told Little Rock radio station KUAR. “I would be afraid to predict anything. I think in the next couple months you could see all kinds of stuff coming down the pike.”

Mr. Berry also has criticized the Obama administration’s approach on issues such as health care reform and climate change legislation.

“I’ve been really disappointed in the lack of leadership from the president on health care and on climate change and some things like that,” Mr. Berry told the Associated Press earlier this month. “Where he did take an approach, I think he took the wrong one.”

He is the second Arkansas congressman to announce this month that he was retiring. Earlier, Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat, said he would not seek an eighth term representing the 2nd District in central Arkansas.

Mr. Berry’s retirement comes as Republicans target Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, who has seen her approval numbers slip. Like Mr. Berry, Mrs. Lincoln has faced criticism from Republicans over her support of health care legislation.

Rep. John Boozman, a Republican who represents northwest Arkansas, has said he is thinking about running for the GOP nomination to challenge Mrs. Lincoln. Nine Republicans have announced they’re seeking the party’s nomination to challenge her this fall.

Mr. Berry’s district has voted reliably Democratic in congressional races, but Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, won the district in the 2008 presidential election.

Democrats occupy three of the four U.S. House seats in Arkansas, both of the Senate seats and all statewide offices, but the state has seen its voters move increasingly Republican in presidential elections. Mr. McCain won the state’s six electoral votes with a 20-point lead over Mr. Obama in the 2008 election.

Rep. Mike Ross, Arkansas Democrat, praised Mr. Berry and wished him well.

“I am committed to working with Marion on the issues important to Arkansas for the remainder of this year,” Mr. Ross said.

It was unclear who would run for Mr. Berry’s seat, but several Democrats from east Arkansas have been floated as potential candidates. They include state Rep. Keith Ingram of West Memphis, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jason Willett of Jonesboro and state Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who is from Jonesboro, said Monday that he doesn’t plan to run.

“At this point in my life, my heart is in Arkansas, not in D.C.,” Mr. McDaniel told the Associated Press.

Republicans welcomed the news of Mr. Berry’s retirement, blaming his exit on a public backlash to his support of Democratic-led efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

“He now realizes that the people of Arkansas were very opposed to it,” state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said Sunday night. “Now, they will be looking for a conservative to replace him.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he was confident that the district would remain in Democratic hands. Mr. Van Hollen praised Mr. Berry’s work in Congress.

“For more than 30 years, the people of Arkansas’ 1st District have had an outstanding leader and dedicated public servant in Representative Marion Berry,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “His work on agriculture, economic and veterans issues have positively affected the lives of many people in Arkansas and across America.”

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