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Trey Gowdy, DC’s Boss on Capitol Hill, Won’t Run for Re-Election

Representative Trey Gowdy during a 2011 House Oversight hearing. Photograph via House Oversight Committee.

Representative Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who leads the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday that he will not seek another term this November. “I will not be filing for re-election to Congress nor seeking any other political or elected office; instead I will be returning to the justice system,” he wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

The 53-year-old Gowdy, who was a federal and state prosecutor before running for Congress, is the 38th Republican House member to resign, run for a different office, or decline to run again during the current Congress. But his departure impacts both federal and local Washington. As the Oversight chairman, Gowdy has been responsible for minding over the District government, which is required to submit its local legislation to Congress for review.

But it’s a power Gowdy hasn’t really used since he took over the committee last June. “I was not elected the mayor of the District of Columbia,” he said repeatedly at the time, suggesting a mostly hands-off approach toward the city’s affairs. That kind of relationship is less of a sure thing when Republicans control the House, and was certainly not the case during the two-and-a-half years Gowdy’s predecessor, Jason Chaffetz, ran the committee.

During his chairmanship, Chaffetz earned DC officials’ and residents’ ire by trying to prevent the city from enacting an assisted-suicide law and threatening litigation when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the District would create a legal-defense fund to help residents targeted by the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant measures. Chaffetz also famously began his tenure by threatening Bowser and other officials with jail time when the District legalized recreational marijuana use.

Gowdy, though, made good on his statement, says Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s non-voting Democratic member in the House. “We’re about to lose another good Republican,” Norton says. “On national matters, Trey and I are in different camps, but even before he became chair of the committee he always abided by Republican principles of local control. When he was appointed chair the first thing he did was sit down with me personally and say to me what he said publicly. He has abided by that.”

Norton adds that Gowdy’s time as chairman was more in line with Republicans like Virginia’s Tom Davis, who ran the Oversight Committee from 2003 to 2007, and California’s Darrell Issa, who led it from 2011 until 2015, both of whom took a more relaxed stance toward the District than the activist approach favored by Chaffetz. The hands-off style also tends to be more successful, Norton says. While Chaffetz’s antics stirred headlines, they rarely succeeded. His attempt to block the assisted-suicide law made it out of the committee, but never got a vote in the full House, allowing DC’s measure to go into effect. “Shows you how far out in front of his caucus he was,” Norton says of Chaffetz, who is now a Fox News commentator. (Though Chaffetz’s aggression against cannabis legalization can be credited with leaving DC in a gray market where which marijuana is “gifted” and “donated” instead of a taxed-and-regulated system similar to Colorado’s.)

But the activist streak could come back. With Gowdy’s retirement, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who leads the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is one of the most senior Republicans on Oversight, and could wind up in charge if the GOP retains its majority in November’s elections. Jordan has tried to mess with DC before, like a 2013 bill that would have stripped the city of all of its gun-control statutes. He angled to get the chairman’s job last time, but lost out to Gowdy. That doesn’t mean he’d be a sure thing this time, though.

“We don’t know who’s next because Republicans don’t always go by seniority,” Norton says.

 

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Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.