Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

More Time with My Money: Leaving the House and Going Home in 1992 and 1994

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

More Time with My Money: Leaving the House and Going Home in 1992 and 1994

Article excerpt

Before the 1992 congressional elections, 66 members of the House of Representatives retired-the highest number since the end of World War II. Fully 53 of the 1992 retirees did not seek another elective office. Previous studies of the retirement surge have emphasized a combination of adverse political circumstances, including the House banking scandal that lessened offenders' reelection prospects, and unique financial opportunities for some members created by a combination of pension monies and convertible campaign funds. This article argues that the 1992 political context was such that, although retiring members in both parties were susceptible to the lure of spending "more time with their money," the bad-check scandal affected only Republicans, not Democrats. Check-kiting members in both parties who decided to run and were reelected in 1992 factored this information into their 1994 retirement decisions as evidence of electoral strength, not weakness. In 1994, as in 1992, anticipated retirement income was equally attractive to both Democrats and Republicans.

In the 1990s, debates concerning the tenure of members of the House of Representatives have captured the attention of politicians and public alike. Controversies concerning the quality of representation provided by professional versus amateur legislators have been reinvigorated, and term-limit proposals designed to enhance turnover and accountability have been hotly disputed. Although participants in these debates disagree sharply, they share a conventional wisdom that members who retire voluntarily from the House of Representatives are very much "the exception, not the rule." In any electoral cycle, overwhelming majorities exhibit keen interest in returning to the House, and they are highly successful when they attempt to do so.1 Paradoxically, as this conventional wisdom fueled controversies concerning the desirability of protracted careers in the House, voluntary retirements increased sharply In the run-up to the 1992 congressional elections, 66 members retired-the highest number since the end of World War II-and 53 of them did not seek another elective office.

Several efforts have been made to explain why so many members decided it was time to leave the House and go home in 1992 (Ahuja et al. 1994; Alford et al. 1994; Groseclose and Krehbiel 1994; Hall and Van Houweling 1995; Jacobson and Dimock 1994). A principal finding of these studies is that two salient factors, i.e., unusually attractive financial incentives and a banking scandal that diminished many members' reelection prospects by tarnishing their reputations for financial probity, significantly affected retirement decisions in 1992.2 It has been argued that these factors had equally strong effects on members of both parties. Thus, Ahuja et al. (1994: 920) conclude: "[the check-kiting scandal. . . had major implications for political strategy but crossed party lines with impunity," and Jacobson and Dimmock (1994: 602) observe: "the public was in a mood to blame all politicians - the president and Congress, Democrats and Republicans - indiscriminately." In such a potentially punitive climate, incumbents in both parties were tempted to "take the money and not run" (Renfro as quoted in Groseclose and Krehbiel 1994: 77).

This research note argues that, although the special financial incentives operating in 1992 were attractive to Democrats and Republicans alike, claims concerning the equal impact of the check-kiting scandal on members of both parties are incorrect. The key assumption guiding our analyses is that representatives are rational actors who use available information on their own circumstances and the larger political milieu to make strategic career decisions. Although students of congressional careers long have found the assumption to be attractive,3 Groseclose and Krehbiel (1994) have demonstrated that it has important methodological implications that have been overlooked in studies of 1992 retirements and other research on congressional careers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.