Senator Breaux Decides to Retire
By DAVID ESPO, AP
WASHINGTON (Dec. 15) - Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, a leading Democratic centrist during three terms in office, has told fellow lawmakers he intends to retire next year rather than seek re-election, officials said Monday.
Breaux's retirement would make him the fifth southern Democrat to step down in 2004, further compounding the party's difficulties in its struggle to gain a Senate majority.
Breaux, 59, scheduled an announcement in Baton Rouge. Several officials speaking on condition of anonymity said he informed several fellow lawmakers of his intentions.
Republicans hold a 51-48 majority in the Senate, with one Democrat-leaning independent.
Apart from Breaux, four other southern Democrats have announced plans to retire in states where President Bush figures to run strongly next year. They are Sens. Bob Graham of Florida; John Edwards of North Carolina, Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and Zell Miller of Georgia.
Breaux, 59, had long encouraged speculation that his career in the Senate might be coming to a close - to the point that he announced recently that if he did choose to retire, he would finish out his present term.
Breaux was the youngest member of Congress when he was elected to the House in 1972 at the age of 28. He won his Senate seat in 1986, and as a centrist, often positioned himself to work across party lines.
Most recently, he was instrumental in negotiating the landmark Medicare legislation that cleared Congress. The bill provides prescription drugs under Medicare at the same time it creates a new opportunity for private plans to offer health coverage to 40 million seniors and disabled individuals.
Breaux also was an early Democratic visitor to President-elect George W. Bush's ranch in 2000, although he took himself out of consideration for a Cabinet post in a Republican administration.
His departure is expected to prompt two members of the state's House delegation to jump into the 2004 Senate race, Reps. Chris John, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican.
Republicans have never won a Louisiana Senate seat since Reconstruction.
The same isn't true in the other Southern Senate seats being vacated by Democrats. And whatever the outcomes of the races in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, each retirement means Democrats must defend a seat without benefit of an incumbent, creating an opportunity for Republicans.
Two Senate Republicans have announced plans to retire at the end of the term, Sens. Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois and Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
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The Dems are purging the idealogically impure it seems.