Saxton and Ferguson refuse to pull a Shadegg

When Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) announced his retirement last month, Democrats reacted with glee and optimism at the prospect of running a competitive race for the open seat, especially with a candidate, Bob Lord, who had raised $600,000.

That hopefulness was dampened, however, when Shadegg reneged on his decision just 10 days later — after entreaties from 130 congressional colleagues and letters from conservative supporters who begged him to reconsider.

Two Republicans say that’s not going to happen here.

Regardless of the chances that their seats will turn from red to blue, Reps. Jim Saxton and Mike Ferguson say that there’s no chance they’ll pull a Shadegg.

National Democrats were planning to target the incumbent Republicans’ seats, and their subsequent retirement announcements have Democrats’ salivating. The seats were moved near the top of many pundits’ lists of races to watch.

“I’m not going to run. It took me probably a year to make a decision about what I was going to do,” said Saxton, whose decision was based largely around his health and desire to spend more time with his two grown children and his grandchildren. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and suffers from the nerve condition sciatica.

“This wasn’t the type of decision where I got up one morning and decided I wasn’t going to run anymore,” he said.

The décor of Saxton’s Washington office has, over time, come to represent his 12 terms in Congress. One wall features military seals and memorabilia and Israel-related mementos, another has photos of his family, and a third wall is dedicated to environmental issues.

And although there were no petitions imploring Saxton to run signed by his colleagues, he said he hears encouragement to run from both political allies and constituents who see him in Mount Holly – out on the town at supermarkets, restaurants and dry cleaners.

“I’ve had a lot of friends who have stayed here until they’re 80 or thereabouts,” he said. “I have some friends who have stayed here a little longer and — how can I say this gently — have outlived their usefulness.”

Saxton tapped Medford Mayor Chris Myers as his heir apparent months ago, and actively campaigns for him in his competitive primary race against Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly.

“They’re both out there doing their thing, and I’m certainly not going to jump in their way,” Saxton said.

He has long denied that his decision not to run again had anything to do with what was likely to be a tough reelection battle. And it didn’t at first occur to him just how high a priority the DCCC would make the district after his retirement. But in retrospect, he realized that they would, listing the precipitous decline in Republican representation in the northeast since that party took control of Congress in 1994.

“If I were in the decision making position in the DCCC, I would look at that and say where are our chances for pickups,” Saxton said. “And I would say most any seat from the northeast.”

Saxton believes Republicans will have an easier time holding on to his third district seat than they will in the seventh district, where Ferguson’s decision not to seek reelection has spawned a crowded field of Republicans who are vying to take on Democrat Linda Stender. Stender came within one point of ousting Ferguson in 2006.

Like Saxton, Ferguson said neither the Democrats’ enthusiasm for taking over his seat nor will protests from his supporters shake his resolve not to run again.

“My decision was not based on politics. It was based on our family,” said Ferguson, who has four children between the ages three and nine. “So some new or different or additional political calculation doesn’t change my thinking.”

It doesn’t help that there are nine Republicans looking to replace him.

Ferguson wouldn’t go into specifics, but said that some Democratic members of Congress even implied that he should run again.

Ferguson’s rationale for leaving has met with a lot of doubt, especially considering Ferguson’s short time in office (eight years once his term is up) and his young age, 37. But he’s insistent that it’s no more complicated than a need to spend more time with his family.

“The folks who really know who I am and what makes me tick realize that this makes all the sense in the world,” he said. “It’s that we have four young children who as they’re getting older need their dad around more and not less… and not distracted and consumed by all that comes with campaigning and serving in Congress.”

Ferguson isn’t sure what he’s going to do once he leaves the Washington, but the former high school history teacher and college adjunct professor would like to return to the classroom, one way or another.

Saxton and Ferguson refuse to pull a Shadegg