Rep. Dave Trott is retiring from U.S. House

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham said Monday he will retire from Congress at the end of his second term, putting his seat in play and open to potential Democratic takeover in next year’s midterm elections.

Trott, a 56-year-old attorney, is the latest in a string of GOP House members to announce they won’t seek re-election in 2018, joining others retiring from competitive districts, including Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Dave Reichert of Washington.

“Our country’s Founding Fathers envisioned a government where citizens leave private life, serve for a brief time, and then return home to their communities,” Trott said in a statement.

“This was not an easy decision, but after careful consideration, I have decided that the best course for me is to spend more time with my family and return to the private sector.”

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Political analysts at the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball promptly changed their ratings for Michigan’s 11th District from “likely” Republican to a toss-up to reflect Democrats’ increased chances of flipping the seat.

“Midterm elections typically are challenging for the presidential party, particularly if the president is unpopular, as Donald Trump is at the moment,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“So while MI-11is a Republican-leaning district ... a favorable Democratic environment could easily put it in play, and Democrats could very well nominate a strong challenger.”

Trump won the district by about 4.5 percentage points last fall — slightly worse than Mitt Romney fared in the well-educated, affluent district in 2012, Kondik noted.

Before joining Congress, Trott was a major GOP donor with businesses in title insurance and foreclosure processing.

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Disclosure records show Trott sold his 81 percent interest in the Farmington Hills-based law firm he helped lead for decades, as well as his interest in the real estate brokerage Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel in Birmingham, to comply with House ethics rules.

Members of Congress may not practice law, sell real estate or engage in other professions that involve fiduciary relationships because of the potential for conflicts of interest.

‘A bit of a legacy’

Trott’s post-congressional plans were not immediately clear. In the House, he sits on the Committee on Financial Services, which he joined earlier this year.

Trott has said one of his proudest moments in Congress was spearheading a letter opposing President Barack Obama’s decision forcing local law enforcement agencies to return armored tanks and other surplus gear they received from the federal government. Local sheriffs were ultimately able to retain their armored vehicles.

Trott introduced a bill this summer to make female genital mutilation a 15-year federal crime. It came amid an ongoing Michigan case involving as many as 100 girls who may have had their genitalia mutilated in a conspiracy case involving allegations against three Metro Detroit doctors. The legislation was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

“He wrote a fair amount of legislation that’s in the hands of his colleagues now,” said David Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University. “He’s leaving behind a bit of a legacy, even if it’s in some small way.”

Trott took office in 2015 after clinching the 11th District election and turning away his predecessor, former Republican U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Milford, by nearly 33 percentage points in the 2014 Republican primary.

Bentivolio also appeared on the ballot last fall as an independent. Trott beat him again, along with Democrat Anil Kumar.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted the district again this cycle, criticizing Trott’s support for the GOP effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and Trump’s controversial ban on travelers and refugees.

Since January, Democratic activists in his district have protested Trott for not holding more town-hall meetings and for his support for Trump.

“His retirement is a tell-tale sign that running for re-election in Paul Ryan’s do-nothing Congress would have been an uphill climb not worth the effort,” DCCC spokeswoman Rachel Irwin said.

“Congressman Trott’s retirement opens up a competitive seat that is trending toward Democrats, and we’re confident that a strong candidate will be ready to represent the people of southeast Michigan in Congress in 2018.”

Two Democrats have entered the 11th District race: Haley Stevens, former chief of staff to Obama’s Auto Task Force, and Fayrouz Saad, Detroit’s former director of immigration affairs. Kumar is also considering another run.

Oakland County Republicans expect intense interest in the seat, as candidates line up for the chance to succeed Trott.

“Fasten your seat belts,” said Jeff Sawka, an Oakland County political insider and former vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

“I imagine whoever the candidates are, they should be financed properly and will be financed to do what they have to do, because we know that the Dems are going to come hard. We’ll be ready for the challenge. We are ready for the challenge.”

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers pledged to “keep his seat red in 2018.”

“His focus on job creation has paid off, and Michiganders in the 11th District are better off today thanks to his leadership,,” Stivers said of Trott. “We will not let his hard work go to waste, and are confident this seat will remain under Republican control.”

Open season for seat

Bentivolio said former colleagues began contacting him Thursday about Trott’s retirement. He’s undecided on another run. “I’m taking my time to consider it,” Bentivolio said.

Several state lawmakers already are believed to be eyeing the seat, including Plymouth Township Supervisor and former state Rep. Kurt Heise; state Sen. Marty Knollenberg of Troy; state Rep. Mike McCready of Birmingham; and Rocky Raczkowski, former majority floor leader of the Michigan House.

Several were reluctant to discuss their political prospects on the 9/11 anniversary Monday.

Knollenberg, serving the first of two possible terms in the state Senate, could look to follow in the footsteps of his father. Retired Rep. Joe Knollenberg served in Congress from 1993 to 2009.

Trott’s announcement “gives Lori and I a lot to think about,” Knollenberg said in a statement, referring to his wife.

“We will let the congressman’s decision sink in, and we will fully assess our current situation and options before commenting further.”

Heise said he would have liked to see Trott continue in Congress but confirmed he is exploring a possible run to replace him.

“I’m looking at it very seriously,” Heise said. “We’re taking a look at the field right now.”

Raczkowski, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, did not want to talk about his political future on Sept. 11, but said he remains committed to ideas “that I strongly believe would move our country forward for everyone.”

McCready, who faces term limits in the Michigan House, had been contemplating a run for state Senate or a local Oakland County position but received “30 to 35 calls in the last two hours” asking if he would run for Congress.

“I’m going to give it some thought,” McCready said. “It just kind of caught me off guard.”

State Sen. Mike Kowall of White Lake, who is seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state, said the top priority should be ensuring a Republican succeeds Trott in Washington.

“I plan to take some time to discuss this unexpected opportunity with my family and supporters and make an announcement in the coming days,” Kowall said in a statement.

Troy City Councilman Ethan Baker, a former aide to President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan, indicated he’s also considering Trott’s seat.

Other potential candidates mentioned by party insiders were Sawka, as well as Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. Small businessman Dan Haberman of Birmingham also expressed interest.

Deb O’Hagan, chair of the 11th District Republicans, said: “If you get a wide-open seat like that, they just come out of the woodwork.”

O’Hagan was not entirely surprised by Trott’s retirement because he’s “not a career politician,” she said.

Trott’s retirement comes as another Michigan congressman, GOP Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, refuted rumors Monday that he’s leaving Congress.

Upton, a member of the U.S. House since 1987, is still considering running for re-election or for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

“Fred is very happy with his day job and very focused on the work he’s doing for our region and state,” Upton spokesman Tom Wilbur said. “He is exploring all of his options, but retirement is not in the cards.”

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11th Congressional District

The 11th District includes parts of Oakland and western Wayne counties, including the population centers of Livonia, Canton Township, Troy, Waterford, Rochester and West Bloomfield.