Rep. Barney Frank began his retirement press conference by saying, "I'm just going to explain my reasons, which are a little complicated." Fifty minutes later, it was clear that a mix of personal and professional reasons factored into the powerful House Democrat's decision to bow out. Here's a condensed version of Frank's reasoning:
- He didn't want to lose. Though Frank said in a "Today" show interview that he thought he'd win re-election, he couldn't be sure. In 2010, when he was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he beat a 35-year-old rookie candidate by 11 percentage points, hardly an overwhelming margin. Next year likely would have been tougher, since Frank's district south of Boston has lots of new Republican voters as a result of redistricting. Plus, as a high-profile lightning rod in Congress, he had reason to think he'd face a wellfunded opponent. "I've become one of the great fund raisers in Congress—in gross, not so much in net," he quipped. "That is, what happened particularly last year was, I raised an enormous amount of money. Unfortunately, only half of it was for me. Half of it was for my opponent."
- He didn't want to do what was necessary to win. Over the last year, Frank has been focused on two issues: defending the Dodd-Frank Reform Act and pushing for cuts in military spending. In order to win re-election, he would have needed to spend a lot of time campaigning. His district has 325,000 new voters. He likely would have had far less time to work on financial policy and military spending. "The problem with the district from my standpoint is that it would be very timeconsuming," he said. "It would mean campaigning pretty much full-time in this new district, because they are new people, and they're not obvious automatic votes for me." And at age 71, the prospect of introducing himself to 325,000 new voters was not all that appealing. "I've always felt I was a better legislator than candidate," he said.
- Like a lot of people, he wouldn't mind making more money while working less hard. The Massachusetts congressman said that he'd like to hit the lecture circuit. His wit and flair for confrontation ensure that he'll be in high demand and perhaps do some college teaching. "Frankly, lecture fees look good to me." He would like to do more writing, and suggested that whatever he writes will be about public policy. "I know there are people who can do serious writing while they're doing other things. I can't. I'm too easily distracted," he said. "And, frankly, you know, what I now look forward to is a life of less work, much less stress, and probably more money, not from lobbying, but [from] lecturing, writing, etc."
- He's getting old.
In the "Today" interview, Frank became testy when he was asked whether his decision not to run next year was a signal that he think Democrats will not win back control of the House. "Did you think I would serve until I was 106?" he asked. Separately, he said that if he had run for reelection next year, it would have been his last campaign. "I had decided many years ago, I will not be here when I'm 75."
Frank admitted he was "initially chagrined" to see the market increase so significantly the day that he announced his retirement. "I then checked with Louise Slaughter, who has been the leader in this effort to prevent insider trading by members of Congress, to see if before the law went through, I could short the market and then announce I was running again," he joked. "But the market has since gone up even more without regard to me, so I don't take it personally."
Frank, the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee and its chairman from 2006 to 2010, also waxed nostalgic about the last few years in Congress. He said he had a fall-back plan if Democrats were unable to abolish the Office of Thrift Supervision in the financial reform law. "It was to change its name to the Office of Fig Leaf Dispensation," Frank said. "But fortunately we were able to get it abolished instead."
Frank also said that he was disappointed the president did not nominate Elizabeth Warren to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "I thought I was the most disappointed person in America about that, and now I have to accept the fact that I am not the person most disappointed—Scott Brown is the person most disappointed," he said, referring to the Republican senator now caught in a re-election race against Warren in Massachusetts.
What's next for Frank? Maybe a career in song writing. He offered up his first semi-original, to the tune of the schoolyard rhyme: "No more markets, no more votes, no more out-of-context quotes." And, he said, "I expect to be singing that in my head as I walk down the steps on the last day," he said.