Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., announced plans Monday to retire at the end of her third term, a departure that will cost the Senate one of its most effective champions of civility and bipartisan cooperation.
Kassebaum, the daughter of GOP presidential candidate Alf Landon and the first woman to chair a major Senate committee, joins a growing exodus of moderate Republicans and Democrats from Congress, potentially heightening the ideological fervor and ferocity of the fight for power in Washington.
“In a time of increasing polarization in Congress, she combined outstanding ability and dedication to public service with a graciousness and civility that won her the enduring respect and affection of Democrats and Republicans alike,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said of his long-time colleague on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
While other departing members have used their departures to blast the state of modern politics, Kassebaum said only that at 63 she believes it is time to retire. “The time has come,” she said, for her to leave and pursue other challenges, including being a grandmother.
“Politics has never been a revered profession in America. We all like to joke about or sneer at Congress, and all too often there is good cause for that,” said Kassebaum, announcing her decision not to seek a fourth term at a news conference in Topeka, Kan. “But politics is nothing more or less than the working out of our competing interests and priorities as a nation. Politics is in fact the lifeblood of democracy, not a spectator sport.”
Kassebaum is the 10th senator to announce intentions to retire; only one other, Colorado Sen. Hank Brown is a Republican. Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, another moderate Republican, is expected to announce his plans next month. Moderates from both parties have been retiring at a higher rate than the more orthodox members. They have largely been replaced with politicians who are more ideologically extreme. Democrats have not held a Senate seat from Kansas since 1932.
Soft-spoken and pragmatic, Kassebaum largely has employed her considerable skills as a moderator and facilitator behind the scenes and her role in legislative battles has rarely commanded headlines.
Her centrist positions have not always won her favor with her fellow Republicans.