Updated January 11, 2022 @ 9:05 a.m.
Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter will not seek reelection to his seat in Congress.
Perlmutter's office made the announcement Monday morning. In a statement, he said he reached the decision after much thought and consideration.
"I will miss meeting the voters of the new 7th District — it is truly the most beautiful district in America," said Perlmutter in the statement. "I’ve never shied away from a challenge but it’s time for me to move on and explore other opportunities. There comes a time when you pass the torch to the next generation of leaders."
Perlmutter, known for meeting constituents in grocery stores and for turning cartwheels along parade routes, has represented the state's 7th congressional district since 2007. Last year's redistricting process made the seat significantly more competitive.
Perlmutter achieved double-digit victories the past few times he stood for office, but the new map gives Democrats in general just a seven-point advantage in the district, based on recent election results.
An unsurprising departure still met with some sadness
At a meeting of the House Rules Committee Monday, Perlmutter told his colleagues, "Obviously the job we do is important. People are wonderful. I just decided that it was time for me and that I wanted to leave when I still loved the job and people still liked me. And you know, that's really the bottom line."
Other members of the committee expressed their regret about his decision to retire.
“I didn’t think anybody would ever persuade me to vote for marijuana reform legislation but my friend from Colorado did,” said Republican Congressman Tom Cole, who serves on the Rules Committee with Perlmutter and said his absence would be felt on both sides of the aisle and called him a wonderful member of Congress.
“You're not allowed to put your life ahead of service to this committee and to Congress,” Cole joked.
Rumblings had circulated in recent years that Perlmutter might step down, so many people in political circles said they weren’t particularly surprised by his announcement.
“Everybody’s priorities in life change. Public service is hard, it’s meant to be hard. It’s never a forever thing for anybody,” said Democratic Speaker of the Colorado House Alec Garnett. “If every politician were Ed Perlmutter, this world would be a wonderful, wonderful place, but you can’t ask him to do it forever. He’s got a family and grandkids.”
Garnett said Democrats have a long bench of qualified candidates in the district, and that probably played an important role in Perlmutter’s calculation.
A challenging midterm with a wide-open field awaits
However, the 2022 midterm election is expected to be a challenging one for Democrats, with polling showing voter dissatisfaction with President Biden and the likelihood of high Republican turnout.
The redrawn district also adds a number of mountain counties to the seventh, which would have required Perlmutter to make his case to thousands of voters he hadn't represented before.
Nevertheless, in November, Perlmutter told CPR he was preparing to seek a ninth term and was prepared to work hard for the win.
According to tracking by NPR, 25 other House Democrats also plan to retire this year.
Within minutes of Perlmutter’s announcement, the campaign arm for House Republicans, which had already added the seventh district to its list of targets, sent out its own response.
“Ed Perlmutter knows House Democrats won’t be in the majority after the midterm elections. He made the smart decision to retire rather than lose reelection,” said NRCC Spokeswoman Courtney Parella in a statement.
Still, Jesse Mallory, a consultant for the conservative group AFP Action, believes that even with a redrawn district and a tough political climate, Perlmutter might have been hard to beat.
“He’s won several times and has a good district staff that’s responsive. He’s a known commodity,” Mallory said.
Perlmutter’s retirement means the race is wide open, and many observers think it’s likely to draw a wide-ranging Republican field now that the winner won’t be running against an incumbent. It will also join Colorado's new eighth district as a likely target for national funding and attention, as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the House.
“A new map with an open seat, that’s a rare thing in politics, especially in Colorado. This is appealing for ambitious politicians on both sides of the aisle,” said Republican political consultant Tyler Sandberg.
Here's who we know is interested in running in District 7 (so far)
Perlmutter didn’t have a Republican challenger for 2022 until last month, when Erik Aadland, who had been running for U.S Senate, switched to the 7th congressional district race, saying he believed it was much more competitive due to redistricting and the new political boundaries.
“I am not running for office to serve my own ends — I’m not a career politician,” wrote Aadland in a campaign announcement.
He said the 7th district seat represents the primary line of defense against “the tide of socialism” he claims Democrats have ushered in.
And within hours of Perlmutter announcing his retirement, other possible candidates were making themselves known.
Republican state Rep. Colin Larson was already mulling a bid but had been hesitant to enter the race with Perlmutter still in the seat. In a written statement on Monday, Larson expressed interest in running.
“Regardless of who the Democrats nominate, this election will be a referendum on Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party’s horrible record on the economy, inflation, crime and our kids’ education,” wrote Larson. “I’m the last Republican elected official in Jefferson County at the state or federal level, and I know how to fight and win here. I’ll make a final decision and announcement soon.”
Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen has said she plans to run for the seat.
In a statement announcing her campaign, Pettersen pointed to her experience living with a mother who spent decades struggling with an opioid addiction.
“Growing up, the odds were stacked against me, but thanks to the support of JeffCo public schools and teachers, I persevered," she said. "Now, I’m fighting to make sure future generations have that same chance.”
From government in the grocery to astronauts on Mars
During his fifteen years in Congress, Perlmutter has worked on issues as diverse as legal banking for the marijuana industry to trying to get a human mission to Mars by 2033.
According to his website, he introduced 68 bills in his first seven terms. Many focused on developing and disseminating renewable energy technology, a natural fit for a congressman whose district includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
In recent years, he’s also helped set the terms of debate in the House as a member of the Rules Committee.
“We have colleagues on both sides of the aisle who I think distinguish themselves, not only the way they conduct themselves with other members, but the way they fight for the constituents,” said Committee chair James McGovern of Massachusetts. “They bring honor to this institution. And I think I speak for all of us when I say we put you in that category and that’s why we hate to see you go.”
Perlmutter also belongs to the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which is devoted to recommending rule changes in Congress to help it run more transparently and effectively. The committee has worked on efforts to help members of Congress hire and retain more diverse staff and to make the new member orientation process less partisan and more focused on decorum and civility.
Constituent service and outreach has been a hallmark of Perlmutter’s time in office. In 2019, he marked his 100th Government in the Grocery, outreach events where people could meet with him one on one in grocery stores around the district. When the pandemic made hanging out near the bakery section hazardous, he switched to a virtual format.
In 2017, Perlmutter entered the race for governor, before bowing out when his fellow congressman, Jared Polis, jumped in. At the time he said he would not run for re-election, before changing his mind six weeks later.
That brief shake-up had a lot of local Democrats considering whether to jump into the race for his seat.
“I think it’s a lot more difficult to serve in office today than it was a decade ago,” said state Sen. Dominick Moreno, who was among those who weighed a bid but decided against it. “What it came down to is preferring to be at a level of government that’s still pretty functional and there’s a lot of bipartisan support for policy and legislation and people for the most part still get along. And I think for a while now that has been less true of Congress.”
News of Perlmutter’s retirement prompted tributes from his Democratic colleagues in Colorado’s delegation, with both Rep. Joe Neguse and Sen. Michael Bennet referring to him as a mentor.
“His yard signs read, ‘Our neighbor…Our voice.’ And Ed has always been true to that vision of leadership,” said Bennet in a statement. “His work will benefit Colorado for generations.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong year for the start of Rep. Perlmutter's time in Congress. He first took office in 2007.
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