Facing retirement from Congress, Ruppersberger says he is sad to leave


Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – Many people who retire from Congress are ready to leave the long days, partisan infighting, frustrating pace of legislation, endless fundraising and time away from family.

But Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, isn’t quite ready to say goodbye yet, despite announcing his retirement after 40 years in public office.

“I’m not happy and I don’t want to leave, but I got five grandchildren,” Ruppersberger, who turned 78 in January, said in an interview with Capital News Service in his memento-filled office with a view of the United States Capitol.

Ruppersberger’s political career started in Baltimore, where he was elected to the Baltimore County Council in the 1980s. In 1994 and 1998 he was elected Baltimore County executive.

His time in Congress began in 2002 when he was elected to represent Maryland’s Second District.

Originally he wanted to run for governor, not Congress, Ruppersberger said. But he decided that if he could get on the House Intelligence Committee he would run for the House.

The avuncular Ruppersberger credits much of his political success to his teamwork and his bipartisanship. A good team is necessary to take care of constituents, he said.

“I was very bipartisan,” Ruppersberger said. “And you have to be when you’re county executive, local government. You have to be bipartisan, you work on all sorts, from business to people who are on welfare. There’s so many issues.”

Ruppersberger’s district is made up of large parts of Baltimore and Carroll Counties and a part of Baltimore City. He is in his 11th term in the House.

“You have to go out and see the people,” Ruppersberger said. “You can’t sit in an office and think you’re gonna get elected. You have to have people on your team who will go out every day and represent you in the community.

Ruppersberger was motivated to get involved in politics after a major car crash he was involved in when he was 28. He was left with 15 broken bones and was in bad shape. He credits the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland for saving his life. Dr. R. Adams Cowley, who founded the trauma center, encouraged Ruppersberger to run for office.

Ruppersberger has supported trauma centers extensively throughout his career and serves as vice chairman of Shock Trauma’s Board of Visitors.

“I know I had brain damage or I wouldn’t be in politics,” Ruppersberger joked.

During his time in Congress, Ruppersberger has worked on several successful projects.

One that stands out is the Hero Miles program, which donates airline tickets to members of the armed forces. Ruppersberger said he noticed that when troops overseas were flown back to the United States they were only taken to a few airports, then would have to pay for their connecting flights home. He fought for this to change and to have Hero Miles put in place in 2003.

Ruppersberger did end up serving on the House Intelligence Committee, where he spent 12 years. In 2011, he was named the ranking member of the committee. The post qualified him as a member of the so-called “gang of eight,” a group of House and Senate lawmakers privy to classified briefings on the country’s top-secret intelligence activities.

“I like the action,” Ruppersberger said. “I like being able to make a difference, which you can in the gang of eight, and I like working with bipartisan people… It was the first time that the House and the Senate, really the gang of eight, came together and worked for the country. And I really, really liked that.”

While on the intelligence panel, Ruppersberger traveled around the world to countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and China.

Along with the then-committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, he became the first dual recipient of the William Oliver Baker Award from the nonpartisan Intelligence and National Security Alliance for their bipartisanship.

“We told people that whether you’re Democrat and Republican, whether you’re the majority or minority, we’re going to run this as a team,” Ruppersberger said. “And we’re not fooling around, we’re gonna get a lot done. And if you don’t do that, we’re going to ask that you leave the committee.”

Since 2015, Ruppersberger has served on the House Appropriations Committee, where he specializes in national security. The committee allocates billions of federal dollars every year and is powerful because it has the final say on spending. Ruppersberger said that the position has allowed him to allocate money for Maryland and his district while also working on national issues.

Ruppersberger refers to himself as an “action guy,” which is why he’s going to have a hard time retiring, he said.

He said he plans to continue working on projects and causes he is working on now even after he leaves office.

What made the decision to retire even harder was the current state of Congress, which he said was enduring “some of the worst times” he’s ever seen.

“I think Congress itself is not doing what they need to do,” he said. “You know you’re always gonna have a majority, minority, and the majority is gonna get more than the minority. But right now, what’s happening with the Republicans, basically they agree on something and then they disagree…and it’s just not right. I’d like people to reach out to both sides of the aisle.”

Three of Maryland’s eight House seats are open this election cycle. In addition to Ruppersberger, Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who represents Maryland’s Third District, also is retiring. And Democratic Rep. David Trone is leaving Maryland’s Sixth District seat to run for the Senate.

Ruppersberger said that the next generation of lawmakers must work together, which he will emphasize to the candidate who will take over his spot. He has already endorsed Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, who is running in a contested Second District Democratic primary to succeed Ruppersberger, and Trone in his bid for the Senate.

Ruppersberger believes there is a “very good possibility” that Democrats will gain the majority in the House in the November elections. The Republicans currently hold a thin 219-213 advantage in the House.

“The Republicans couldn’t even elect a speaker, it took them six people,” Ruppersberger said. “They keep changing their minds. You need strong leadership and somebody who can stand up to your own party. You got to lead.”

Democrats are doing a good job at talking about what could make a difference to help and support people, Ruppersberger said. A lot of people are hurting in this country, he added.

Passing bills such as providing funding for Ukraine and Israel will hold the nation together and make it stronger, he said.

“I have 10 more months here and I plan on doing what I’ve always been doing,” Ruppersberger said. “Doing the best I can…And I’m not happy about leaving, I’m sad.”

“…Life will take care of itself,” the congressman said. “I have a lot of experience and a lot of friends so, in the end, I’ll be fine. I just need some time not to be sad about leaving this. It’s been my life for a long time.”

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