In a surprise announcement Wednesday afternoon, Southwest Washington Congressman Brian Baird said he will not seek re-election next year.
"The time has now come to pursue other options, other ways of serving. Hence, I am announcing today that I do not intend to seek reelection to Congress in 2010," the six-term Democrat said in a statement. "This is not an easy decision to be sure, but I believe it is the right decision at the right time."
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Baird said his work on the Hill has taken too much of his time away from his family, especially his 4-year-old twin boys.
"It's cliche, but it's true," he said. "Family. I've got two young boys. ... They're wonderful little guys, and I want to be able to have more time with them."
He said he has not decided what he will do next and that he has no job offers. For now, he said he plans to serve out his remaining term in Congress, which lasts through the end of next year.
He said he is particularly proud of restoring the sales tax deduction from federal tax returns in 2004, which, he said, has saved Washington residents $300 to $500 million.
Baird, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, has proven something of a maverick during his 11 years on the Hill. He caught flak from the district's left wing after he announced, following a 2007 trip to Iraq, that he would support President Bush's troop surge there. This summer, he angered the right after he denounced the people who loudly disrupted town halls on heath care reform as "Brown Shirts," a reference to Nazi thugs. Most recently, he voted against the health care reform bill, citing a lack of evaluations of its financial impact.
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In August, with the health care debate roiling the nation, Baird's office received a death threat. During a visit to Longview, he was escorted by a police lieutenant, an unprecedented measure.
On Wednesday, Baird said the events of the summer recess were unsettling but were not a factor in his decision to quit Congress, saying "to some extent it goes with the territory."
"Even if August had been a walk in the park," he said he still would have decided that retiring "is the right thing."
He also noted: "There's no crisis. ... I'm thrilled."
Baird has cruised with relative ease to re-election victories throughout his career and likely would have had an easy re-election campaign next year as well.
"I'm very confident I'd be re-elected if I ran again," he said. "I feel like I'm going out at the top of my game."
Veteran state legislator Brian Hatfield, a Raymond Democrat who represents Longview and Kelso in the state Senate, said he will explore running for Baird's seat.
"I'd be crazy not to explore it. It's been a goal of mine since college," he said.
Hatfield, who also has served in the state House, said he would offer himself as a candidate positioned between the left and right. "I think a moderate would have a good chance and serve the voters well," he said.
Two Republicans were set to challenge Baird next year: Jon Russell, a Washougal City councilman, and David Castillo, a former chief of staff for the Washington House Republican Caucus.
Russell issued a statement Wednesday saying Baird's "resignation underscores the political reality that there is a political sea change coming and he was about to get swept under."
The 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from Clark County up to Thurston County, has been a swing district in presidential elections. It voted for Bush in 2004 and favored President Obama last year. However, Democrats have held the Congressional seat for more than the last half-century with one exception — when maverick Republican Linda Smith won it in the 1994 Republican landslide and served four years.
Daily News political reporter Don Jenkins contributed to the report.