Frelinghuysen calls it quits

| 31 Jan 2018 | 02:29

By Meghan Byers
— U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) announced his retirement on Monday, stirring up varied responses from both sides of the aisle and throughout the political spectrum. Elected in 1994, Frelinghuysen has represented New Jersey’s 11th District for nearly 24 years, following in the footsteps of his father, who also served in Congress for two decades. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Frelinghuysen is currently the most powerful New Jersey voice in the House of Representatives.
“The power of the purse still lies with Congress,” he told worried constituents last year during a tele-town hall that focused heavily on tax reform. He reiterated this in his statement on Monday, writing, “Every member, Republican and Democrat, will continue to have ample opportunity to directly impact the Congressional power of the purse and decide the best and highest use of limited taxpayer money.”
The 11th District includes parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties. In Sussex County, the municipalities of Byram, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Sparta and Stanhope are in the 11th District.
Frelinghuysen is the 33rd House Republican to announce that he will not be seeking re-election in 2018, and one of 19 Republicans retiring – 13 are seeking other positions.
The congressman did not offer a reason for his decision to retire at the end of his 12th term. However, he has faced increased controversy and criticism since the 2016 presidential election, with political activist groups such as NJ 11th for Change scrutinizing his voting record and accusing him of voting “party over people.”
“Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement is the culmination of a year-long accountability campaign carried out by the constituents of NJ’s 11th District,” NJ 11th for Change said in its own statement on Monday. “It is a testament to the power of people, united in a goal, who refuse to give up.”
The members of NJ 11th for Change have been gathering outside Frelinghuysen’s office since last January to request an in-person town hall, and its membership has now grown to about 8,000. While their initial goal was not to remove him from office, they have since shifted their focus. Democratic candidate for the 11th District Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, might have provided a formidable challenge for Frelinghuysen come November, having gained the endorsement of all four Democratic party chairs in the counties comprising the 11th district.
The Sierra Club, an environmentalist group, has had its own quarrels with the congressman. “Given his record, it makes sense that Frelinghuysen is not running for office again,” wrote New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. “He’s leaving because he knows how unpopular he is with his constituents. Frelinghuysen has sold out the environment and his people. [...] We are glad to be part of the efforts to replace him with a better Representative for the people of New Jersey: one that will fight to protect our environment and our state from Trump rollbacks.”
However, the New Jersey Republican Party has no intention of relinquishing the 11th District seat.
“On behalf of the NJGOP, it is important that the public knows we will be digging in for a tough fight to maintain this seat,” NJGOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt wrote on Monday. “We cannot let Nancy Pelosi take over New Jersey’s congressional delegation. There is a wealth of talent in the GOP bench, and I am confident we will field a host of well qualified candidates that will be capable of victory in November.”
Politicians from both sides of the aisle offered well-wishes to Frelinghuysen, with Governor Phil Murphy stating, “I want to thank Congressman Frelinghuysen for his more than 23 years of service to the people of New Jersey’s 11th Congressional district. Public service runs deep in the Frelinghuysen family and, while we have not always agreed on the issues, Rodney has always been a dedicated public servant who has stood by his convictions.”
“I am proud to have worked with you and proud to be your constituent,” wrote former Governor Chris Christie on Twitter. “You will be missed by so many who have benefitted from your wise leadership at the county, state and national level.”
Frelinghuysen, for his part, urged his constituents to follow in his own footsteps. “Today as I announce my retirement at the end of this session of Congress,” he wrote, “I want to use the opportunity to strongly encourage the many young people I meet to consider public service. Public service is an incredible way to turn your convictions into something that serves the greater good and to do it alongside people from every walk of life and background. That has certainly been my experience here in this House, and during my Army service in Vietnam. I thank my friends and colleagues with whom I have served.”
His complete retirement message can be read on his Congressional website: