August 14, 2012

Merced Rep. Dennis Cardoza resigns, cites family needs

Congressman Dennis Cardoza — who has represented portions of Stanislaus County and all of Merced County since 2002 — announced his resignation today, effective immediately. He cited sensitive family needs.

Citing sensitive family needs, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, has tendered his immediate resignation from the House of Representatives and joined a lobbying firm.

The surprisingly timed departure takes effect at midnight tonight.

A veteran San Joaquin Valley politician first elected to the House in 2002, the 53-year-old Cardoza will be joining the law-and-lobbying powerhouse Manatt, Phelps and Phillips in its Washington, D.C., office.

Cardoza previously had announced he would not run for re-election. While citing the toxic partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, he primarily attributed his sped-up timing to growing burdens on the home front.

"In light of the fact that nothing is going to happen for the rest of the year, and in light of the fact that (my wife) and I are facing increasing parenting challenges, this seemed the right time to make this move," Cardoza said in an interview Monday.

He and his wife, Dr. Kathleen McLoughlin, have three children: a biological daughter and two adopted siblings. The adopted children, a brother and sister originally from Kern County, joined the Cardoza household in 2000 after living in foster homes. They are now teenagers.

Cardoza previously has spoken publicly, in general terms, about the dangers posed to foster-care children exposed at a young age to unstable households and drugs such as methamphetamine, and he has won bipartisan praise for legislation he's introduced to address some of the related problems. He said his children's privacy rights prevent him from offering more details about their status.

Other lawmakers have made similar choices, drawing attention to the constant tension between keeping a family and enduring the long hours and constant travel required of Congress members. Last month, similarly citing an unspecified "family health issue," Kentucky Republican Geoff Davis announced his immediate resignation. Joe Scarborough, now an MSNBC personality, cited his children in 2001 when he resigned five months into his fourth House term.

A senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and a one-time member of the extended House leadership team, Cardoza said some job feelers were extended to him soon after he announced his retirement plans.

He said he did not pursue the opportunities at the time. On Monday, he expressed interest in potentially serving on some corporate boards and in investment banking.

"I'm not leaving my service to the valley," Cardoza said. "I'll just be doing it from a different venue."

Several hours after news broke of Cardoza's resignation Tuesday afternoon, the Manatt firm announced that he would be joining the company.

He is not a lawyer, although he has worked in local, state and federal government for years.

"His expertise with California issues, as well as his deep experience and insight into both federal and state affairs, makes him a terrific resource," said Jim Bonham, chairman of the firm's federal government affairs and public policy group.

The Manatt firm, some of whose leaders long have been associated with the Democratic Party, is registered to lobby for clients ranging from the city of West Sacramento and Del Monte Foods to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, among others.

Can't lobby for a year

Under ethics rules, Cardoza will be able to offer strategic and tactical advice immediately but must refrain from formal lobbying for a year. He said he signed recusal documents when he began negotiating with the Manatt firm roughly 10 days ago.

Although Cardoza's wife and three children moved from Merced County to join him in a rural Maryland residence several years ago, he largely has continued to make cross-country treks every week.

Often, this has meant flying to California on Friday and returning on a red-eye flight Sunday night, arriving early Monday.

"It's incredibly difficult to work the hours required, especially coming from a Western state," Cardoza said.

The timing of Cardoza's resignation means there will be no special election to fill his 18th Congressional District seat, which encompasses parts of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties.

His office staff will remain, taking care of constituent services but steering clear of political advocacy. Cardoza informed most of his staff members of his resignation plans in an emotional conference call Monday.

His departure leaves House Republicans with a 240-190 majority over Democrats, with five House vacancies. By most political assessments, Republicans are favored to retain control of the House after the November election.

Cardoza had announced in October he would not run for re-election, after the bipartisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission carved the San Joaquin Valley into new House districts. The redistricting essentially left Cardoza the choice of retiring or facing off against longtime friend and ally Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.


BORN: March 31, 1959

FAMILY: Married to Dr. Kathleen McLoughlin; three children: Joey, Brittany and Elaina

EDUCATION: Attended California State University, Stanislaus, and graduated from the University of Maryland, 1982

POLITICAL CAREER: Atwater City Council, 1984-1986; Merced City Council, 1994-1995; California Assembly, 1996-2002; House of Representatives, 2003-August 2012

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