Friday, February 18, 2011

Bingaman: No ideal time to step aside

Sen. Jeff Bingaman quietly told Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday night that he would be retiring at the end of the 112th congress. Today, he made it official, telling reporters there is "no ideal time to step aside."

"After 30 years I think I've given this my best effort and I think this is a good time for me to make the decision...a lot of factors go into a decision like that," the Silver City native and former New Mexico Attorney General said.

Bingaman plans to live in Santa Fe when he retires, and is sure he'll be "doing something," but hasn't decided what that will be yet.

Audio link for Bingaman's retirement announcement here

Staying engaged

Bingaman's wife said the decision to quit was entirely his own.

"I was no impetus whatsoever.I did not have a dog in the fight. I really didn't," Anne Bingaman, a retired attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. "It was up to him 100 percent. I don't go near the senate. I have nothing to do with it."

She doesn't think the couple will spend their golden years cruising around the world, although some travel is likely.

"I don't expect Jeff not to be actively engaged in something. He's not the type," Bingaman said. "You know it's two years off. I'm sure things will happen and he'll get a clear fix on what the options are and what he might want to do. It's one of these things you can talk to anybody about this. He really doesn't know. I do know he'll do something."

Both she and the Sen. said they had no doubt that he could be re-elected.

Thoughtful approach

Bingaman's former state director Terry Brunner, who now heads up the U.S. Agriculture Department in New Mexico, said New Mexicans are recalling the Senator's long service record in New Mexico.

"We're really thinking about everything that Jeff accomplished in the senate, and just the long term of service he had, and what he was able to get done and the thoughtful and considerate way he approached," Brunner said.

Brunner said he was a little surprised that Bingaman opted out of a 2012 campaign, especially since his poll numbers have been positive.

Filling big shoes

"New Mexico is a small state. It's important to have the best voice we can, the strongest, the loudest vote in the senate," Brunner said. "We're going to be lacking in seniority, but I think, hopefully, we can get some good people to fill the shoes --who will take up the banner and fight for New Mexicans up in D.C."

Brunner wants Bingaman's replacement to understand the needs of the state's diverse population.

"I think they need somebody who understands New Mexico -- who get's what we're all about. Somebody who can understand how to work best in the senate to get things accomplished for our small state.

Jeff's always been an independent guy and does what he thinks is best and I knew that he'd make the right decision for himself and that's what this is about," Brunner told us. "He's had a long career in the senate and he's been very effective and I think he has time for another act in his life here and something else he can do contribute to New Mexico."

Bingaman, sensing the seat he held for three decades will be competitive, told reporters he thinks the Democrats will keep his seat.

Off to the races.

In his own words

Today I am announcing that I will not run next year for election for a sixth term in the United States Senate next year in 2012. Representing the people of New Mexico in the Senate is a great honor, and a great responsibility which I have enjoyed for over 28 years.

At the end of this Congress, I will have been in public service for thirty-four years—four as New Mexico’s Attorney General, and thirty in the United States Senate. The end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside and allow someone else to serve.

It is not easy to get elected to the Senate, and it is not easy to decide to leave the Senate. There is important work that remains to be done. That is true today, and it will be the case at the end of this Congress. It will be true at the end of every future Congress as well. The simple truth is, there is no ideal time to step aside.

I am proud of my service in the Senate, and the work of my staff in New Mexico and Washington who have shared in the trust given by the people of New Mexico. My family, and that fine staff, have made my service possible. We will continue to serve the people of New Mexico through the remainder of this Congress which has just begun.

When I started in the Senate in 1983, and Anne, John and I moved to Washington, we never considered it a permanent move. We have always considered New Mexico our home, and have cherished the time we have been able to spend here over the last three decades. At the end of this term, we will come home to New Mexico to live, and to pursue other challenges.

President's statement:

"From his time in the Army, to his service as New Mexico’s Attorney General and Senior Senator, Jeff Bingaman has served this country and the people of New Mexico for more than three decades. He has been a tireless advocate for preserving America’s natural resources and promoting a clean energy future. Jeff has gained the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in New Mexico and in Washington, and his voice on the floor of the Senate will be missed. Michelle and I offer Jeff our best wishes and deepest appreciation for his lifetime of service.”

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