Republican Rep. Mike Oxley announced this week that he will retire, depriving Congress of one of its most powerful champions for corporate oversight and insurance protection.
His departure at the end of his term in January 2007 isn’t likely to open any doors for Democrats because the Ohio district he has represented for 25 years is the state’s most solidly Republican seat.
Term limits will force Oxley to give up his chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee at the end of 2006, and the 61-year-old said that was a leading factor in his decision.
“I’ve paid my dues,” he told The Associated Press.
The former FBI agent led a House probe into failed energy giant Enron Corp. and helped create new accounting requirements in 2002′s Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
“I think that will be first and foremost in my obituary,” Oxley said.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., said he valued the bipartisan relationship he and Oxley developed working on the act.
“His expertise will be missed in the Congress,” said Sarbanes, who also is retiring next year.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, said Oxley has received undue criticism for working with the opposition to get things done.
“At a time when rancor in Washington leads many to the extreme of trying to manufacture civility, Mike Oxley’s basic personal decency demonstrates that where civility is lacking, it is not the fault of the system as much as a personal failing of the uncivil,” Frank said.
Treasury Secretary John Snow and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans said Oxley’s leadership was critical in challenging economic times.
“The landmark corporate responsibility legislation enacted under his leadership, and which bears his name, shored up investors in the face of events which shook their confidence,” Snow said.
Snow also praised Oxley for pushing for more open reporting by mutual fund managers and for tougher penalties for terrorist financing schemes.
The Bond Market Association that represents securities firms worldwide put out a statement calling Oxley’s leadership “invaluable on a number of legislative achievements important to the capital markets.”
Oxley believes the insurance industry is the underpinning of the entire economy and vows to renew an act that provides a government backup for insurance companies when large properties are destroyed by terrorism.
“I’m not dead yet,” Oxley said.
Oxley has been in contact with Snow about it, even though the Bush administration has strong reservations about renewing a one-time response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Oxley said. The program, which expires Dec. 31, is critical to give large developers confidence to keep building, he said.
Elected in 1981, Oxley has been able to give away much of his campaign donations to other GOP candidates in the last half of his tenure. “His prolific fundraising has helped to build a lasting House Republican majority,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York.
Oxley’s 4th District stretches from Lima in the northwest to Mansfield about halfway across the state. Only 34.4 percent in the district voted for Democrat John Kerry for president in 2004, and 36.4 percent backed Al Gore in 2000, giving Bush his largest victory margins in Ohio.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hoping to make a run at the seat by taking advantage of GOP scandals, such as the conviction of Gov. Bob Taft on ethics violations.
“The culture of corruption that surrounds both Ohio and Washington today creates a difficult environment for all Republicans, making every Republican-held seat vulnerable,” DCCC spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod said.
Democrat Ben Konop was the first challenger of Oxley to receive more than 40 percent of the vote last year and could run again. Democratic Mansfield Mayor Lydia Reid said she is considering running.
Oxley’s “been really good to Mansfield,” Reid said. “Despite our good relationship with him, though, people are tired of high gas prices, high heating bills, their jobs going overseas, and they blame government. It’s getting to be the thing where they say, ‘Throw the bums out,’ whether it’s me, or some other bum.”
Oxley said he hasn’t been involved in recruiting a Republican successor, but isn’t worried the scandals will affect the GOP’s hold on the district.
“Every party has its ups and downs,” he said.