Rep. Lois Capps ended months of speculation Wednesday by announcing her retirement, signaling the end of an era that began in tragedy when Capps’ husband, Walter, died just nine months after his election to Congress.
Capps, a former school nurse who was first elected to serve out her husband’s term, will retire when her current term ends in 2017. By then, the Santa Barbara Democrat will have served 18 years in the House — one of the longest tenures by a Central Coast representative.
During her time in office, Capps has been voted the “nicest person in Congress” in multiple polls of congressional staffers — a description that may have haunted her as much as it helped her.
Critics have scoffed at “nice.” They’ve labeled Capps, 77, as a weak, ineffectual lightweight.
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By today’s bombastic standards, which value outrageous theatrics more than behind-the-scenes negotiating, Capps indeed falls short.
But a lightweight?
Consider: The year after her husband’s death, she ran two successful campaigns, defeating Republican Tom Bordonaro (former state assemblyman and current SLO County assessor) in a special election in March and again in the fall of 1998.
She went on to carve out a reputation as a tireless advocate on health care issues — she was a champion of the Affordable Care Act — gun control, veterans’ benefits and environmental protections.
She’s been instrumental in securing federal assistance for various local projects, including the Los Osos sewer. Nearly half the money for that project is coming from a low-interest loan and grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Capps has been highly accessible and visible to her constituents; her many public appearances have taken her to classrooms, farms, city halls, hospitals, veterans centers and businesses large and small.
Capps and her staff have been especially effective at helping constituents navigate the federal bureaucracy — an accomplishment that may never show up on any official list, but nonetheless has made a big difference in the lives of many Central Coast residents.
On the other side of the ledger, there have been missteps. We were especially disappointed in the negative tactics of Capps’ most recent campaign against Chris Mitchum, when one of his statements was egregiously abbreviated and taken out of context. Yes, other politicians did the same, but because of her reputation for ethical behavior, we expected more from Capps.
With the announcement of Capps’ retirement, the 2016 race is expected to be highly competitive. Capps’ daughter, Laura Burton Capps, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination. State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian is a potential Republican nominee.
That, however, is speculation better left for another day.
Today, we join many others across the state in recognizing the accomplishments and the successful career of Lois Capps, and we thank her for her dedication and service to the 24th Congressional District.