Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, announced his retirement Thursday, culminating a San Joaquin Valley political career that dates back to a college internship three decades ago.
The 52-year-old Cardoza said he will step down at the end of 2012 rather than battle it out in a newly redrawn congressional district with his long-time friend and colleague, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
"I love the people of the Central Valley, and thank them for the confidence they have placed in me," Cardoza said in a statement. "While I plan to retire from public service after this term in Congress, I will energetically continue my efforts to improve California as a private citizen."
But in voluntarily leaving a job he first won by unseating a former boss in 2002, Cardoza is also departing a Congress where he decries the loss of fellow moderates and the media focus on partisanship.
"The constant focus on 'screamers' and the 'horse race' of elections is smothering useful discourse and meaningful debate of public policy," Cardoza said.
Cardoza did not specify his career plans once he leaves the House of Representatives and its $174,000 annual salary. He and his wife Kathleen, a physician, currently live in a new, 4,130-square foot house on two acres in rural Maryland. They have three children.
Cardoza's decision leaves Costa as the favorite to represent the newly redrawn 16th Congressional District, which spans Merced and Madera counties and part of Fresno County. Democrats enjoy a 48-to-33 percent voter registration advantage in the new district.
Cardoza's decision did not surprise his colleagues or other political professionals, who had been reading the tea leaves for months. Tellingly, Cardoza's fundraising slowed considerably since July, and newly filed statements show his campaign treasury currently has only $62,471 available.