U.S. Rep. Marion Berry announced his retirement Monday morning, saying he is at "perfect peace" with his decision to leave office and return to his farm in Arkansas.
Berry, 67, won the seat in 1996 and has held it since. He ran unopposed in 2008.
Berry had told staff members and friends on Sunday that he planned to announce his retirement, and had offered hints over the past week that he was reconsidering his bid for an eighth term.
Berry made his official announcement Monday in an e-mail statement:
“Since 1997, the people of the First Congressional District of Arkansas have entrusted me to serve them in Washington. It has been an honor I have never taken for granted and for their support I will be eternally grateful. After much prayer and consideration, I have decided it is time for me to return home to Arkansas. The people deserve a representative who has the ability to rise to the numerous challenges that face our state and our nation. As a lifelong farmer, time has taken its toll on my health and I am no longer able to serve the district with the vitality I once possessed. Therefore, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2010. I am at perfect peace with this decision and look forward to returning to the farm and my home state of Arkansas.”
Berry had repeatedly said he had no plans to retire, but he fueled speculation last week when he told a radio interviewer asking about his re-election plans that “nothing is certain in this world but death.”
“There has not been this much turmoil in Arkansas politics in a long time,” Berry told Little Rock radio station KUAR. “I would be afraid to predict anything. I think in the next couple months you could see all kinds of stuff coming down the pike.”
During his time in Congress, Berry served on the House Agriculture Committee, the Budget Committee and in 2003 he was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee.
Fellow Democratic congressman Mike Ross praised Berry and wished him well.
“I am committed to working with Marion on the issues important to Arkansas for the remainder of this year,” Ross said.
He is the second Arkansas congressman to announce this month that he was retiring. Earlier, Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder said he would not seek an eighth term representing the 2nd District in central Arkansas.
Berry’s departure from the 1st Congressional District seat, which has been held by Democrats since Reconstruction, throws open what is thought by political analysts to be a potentially crowded field for both the May primary and November general elections.
It was unclear who would run for Berry’s seat, but several Democrats from east Arkansas have been floated as potential candidates. They include state Rep. Keith Ingram of West Memphis, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jason Willett of Jonesboro and state Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould.
One potential candidate suggested he will not pursue the seat. In a statement in which he praised Berry as an outstanding leader and a "valued mentor and inspiration," Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel reiterated his intention to seek reelection to his current office.
"With multiple open congressional seats, Arkansas politics is sure to be very interesting this year," McDaniel wrote. "I love serving Arkansas as our Attorney General, and I am hoping to be re-elected to a second term. Of course, the First Congressional District is my home. My family has been in Lawrence and Craighead Counties for many generations. In the coming days, many good people will consider making a run for this seat. I look forward to talking to the candidates and ultimately supporting one of them. However, today, my thoughts are with Marion and his family,"
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
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Information for this article was contributed by Charlie Frago of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press.