(The Center Square) – U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, Kentucky’s lone Democratic lawmaker on Capitol Hill, announced Tuesday he would not seek re-election next year.
The three-minute video statement, posted on Twitter, stunned many, both in his Louisville district and nationally, as the House budget chairman and architect of the American Rescue Plan Act became the first chair not to run in 2022.
While he said he looks forward to spending more time with his family after he leaves Washington, Yarmuth added he intends to finish out the term in a strong fashion.
“We can still do much more for the American people, and since that progress will unfortunately not be done on a bipartisan basis, my chairmanship of the house budget committee puts me in a pivotal position to help build an even better future for our citizens,” he said.
Currently, Democrats hold a slim 220-212 majority over Republicans in the House. However, at least five incumbent Democrats have announced their decision not to run next year.
Because of that, some see Yarmuth’s retirement announcement as a sign that Democrats will face significant challenges in maintaining the majority in next year’s midterm elections.
“Chairman Yarmuth’s announcement shows Democrats realize their chances of maintaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives are slim to none,” Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown said in a statement. “We look forward to doing our part to helping retire Nancy Pelosi as speaker in 2022.”
Yarmuth was already facing a primary challenger next spring in state Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville. Yet, less than 10 minutes after Yarmuth’s posted the video on his congressional Twitter page, Kentucky Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, announced his bid to replace the eight-term congressman on his Twitter account.
Both candidates represent key Democratic strongholds in the city. Scott, a former Metro Council member, represents part of Louisville’s West End. She also has been active in social justice issues, including the Breonna Taylor case, for years.
McGarvey’s district includes the Highlands, a strong liberal neighborhood in the city. He’s also been unopposed in two of his three races for the state Senate.
Another potential candidate is Aaron Yarmuth, the congressman’s son. The younger Yarmuth told The Louisville Courier-Journal that he’s considering the race because he’s concerned about a GOP takeover next year.
Besides the national implications, his departure may create ripples in Kentucky’s largest city as well. Yarmuth is highly popular in Louisville, he’s topped 62% in each of his races dating back to 2012, but now Democrats there will be looking to replace both him and three-term Mayor Greg Fischer, who is term-limited, next year.
Robert Kahne, a co-host on My Old Kentucky Podcast which focuses on Bluegrass State politics who also tracks Kentucky political data, told The Center Square on Tuesday it will be interesting to see how those races evolve with new candidates especially in a changing political climate.
“I think you kind of see Louisville is going to have the opportunity to make choices in both of these races regarding which direction they want to go,” he said. “If they want, maybe a younger, but similar version of what they had before or if they want to go in a totally different direction. Or maybe just change it up a little bit. There are lots of different ways it could go.”
The congressional race will also hinge on whether state lawmakers can approve new maps for next year's election based on the 2020 Census. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told The Center Square the legislature hopes to accomplish that in time for next year’s general election. Still, he added it’s too soon to determine how those districts will look.
If lawmakers cannot make changes in time, or if most of Louisville remains within the same district, then Kahne said that should bode well for Democrats. Kahne, who also serves on the Kentucky Democratic Party Executive Committee but said he was offering just his own opinion, noted that Democrats have picked up seats on the Louisville Metro Council and within the city’s state legislative districts in recent years.
“The same way that the rural areas that used to vote Democratic in large members are now voting for Republicans, the suburban Democrats within the Louisville city limits within Jefferson County have really, really trended Democratically,” he said.
Yarmuth, who turns 74 on Nov. 4, is a Louisville native who started in politics more than 50 years ago as a Republican. He worked on a U.S. Senate campaign for Marlow Cook in 1968 and served as an aide to him during the moderate Republican’s only term.
In 1981, he ran unsuccessfully for a commissioner's seat on the Jefferson County Fiscal Court – then the county’s main legislative body.
During the 1980s, Yarmuth changed parties, telling The Courier-Journal earlier this year that the Reagan Administration and its policies played a big factor in that decision. He would then go on to create the Louisville Eccentric Observer, an alt-weekly newspaper.