Finley: D.C. dysfunction claims another victim
Editorial board members Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques discuss the retirement announcement of U.S. Rep Dave Trott, a farmer at odds with a Lansing city market over his views on gay marriage, changes to college sex assault guidelines
Dave Trott got into politics for all the right reasons. Now he’s getting out at the right time.
The second-term Republican congressman says he will not run for a third term next year, giving up a job he spent a small fortune to obtain, and one he had dreamed of holding since he was a child.
His departure forces the GOP to defend a seat it shouldn’t have had to worry about in the 2018 mid-term elections, and raises the real potential the 9-5 advantage Republicans currently hold over the Michigan delegation could evaporate.
How often do you hear of a congressman leaving Washington voluntarily after just four years, absent a scandal? Most hang onto the position as if it were a palm tree in a hurricane.
On the record, Trott says his premature departure is consistent with his devotion to the nation’s founding principles. “The idea was a citizen legislature, people leaving their communities for awhile and then coming home.”
He also cited a desire to spend more time with his wife, Kappy, now that they’re empty nesters.
“This is not a job, really, it’s a way of life,” Trott says. “It’s morning, noon and night.”
Still, Trott joins a growing list of moderate Republicans who are walking away from a Congress roiled by the volatility of the Trump era. Members who, like Trott, came to Congress with noble ideals and the notion they could make a difference are finding the intraparty feuding and the cross-party warring tough to take.
Trott and I had lunch before he made the decision to run in 2014 in the district that covers the affluent suburbs of Oakland and western Wayne counties. He was a hugely successful businessman who had reached mid-life, his children were grown or nearly so, and he hoped to fulfill a fantasy he’d held since high school civics class to join the political process.
“Whadda you think,” he asked. My reply was simple: I thought he was nuts.
He owned a title company and other entities serving the mortgage industry. Michigan was still stinging from its brutal foreclosure crisis, and I worried Trott would be painted by Democrats as a modern day Dastardly Whiplash (as they did).
But even if voters ignored the slurs (as they did), I felt Trott and Congress would be a poor fit. He was a chief executive used to a world of “so let it be written, so let it be done.” When he wanted to do something, he did it, and without having to put it up for a vote.
He was used to being surrounded by very smart people who shared his mission. In Congress, he would be joining the most dysfunctional committee in the country. Of the 434 other representatives serving with him, some would be brilliant, some not so much.
And for each one who offered to pull with him toward a goal, there would be another pulling hard in the opposite direction.
I felt he would get frustrated by the natural inertia of the institution.
Trott says he’s been happy in the job, and that he’ll leave without regrets or bitterness. But in my conversations with him over the past year, I’ve sensed a dissatisfaction with the breakdown of civility
He’s been hounded and harassed by the militant left, who demand that he show up at town halls scheduled by Democrats for the purpose of flogging him. It’s no fun to get screeched at in a grocery store in front of your family.
And increasingly today, voters are more interested in what congressmen vote against, rather than what initiatives they champion. For a guy like Trott, who values policy over politics, the emphasis on partisanship is disheartening.
His departure leaves a big hole in the Michigan GOP’s 2018 line-up. It will cost them more money than they anticipated to hold the seat. If Rep. Fred Upton decides to leave his mid-Michigan district to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Debbie Stabenow, holding the delegation in a mid-term election with a motivated Democratic electorate will be a struggle.
For an idealist like Trott, who moves his focus to his family foundation and his family, you can’t blame him for leaving. He gave Congress a try, learned in short order he couldn’t change things, and is getting out before a broken system breaks him.
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