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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Rep. Marion Berry. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

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.

Thank you for coming to the Web site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We're working to keep you informed with the latest breaking news.

Information for this article was contributed by Charlie Frago of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press.

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  • SBS779
    January 25, 2010 at 9:37 a.m.

    Just like Vic he is leaving before they lose their benefits. Him and Vic have seen the hand writing on the wall and better to leave than getting voted out.

    January 25, 2010 at 9:39 a.m.

    Congressman Berry, thank you for your service, your sense of humor, your sense of history, and your devotion to people at the grassroots of our system of government! Godspeed to you!

  • tommkatt
    January 25, 2010 at 10:19 a.m.

    Remember there are no moderate democrats.Obama caused many dems to fall on their swords for his socialist agenda.Berry lost touch with Arkansas voters.

  • arkie
    January 25, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.

    Congressman Berry mailed me a letter a few weeks ago, informing me that he had voted for the health care abomination (my words, not his) and attempting to explain to me, an obviously backward type, why it had been the right thing to do. Although this particular episode is more egregious than many, he has voted against his constituents' interests again and again during his tenure. I'm not saying he hasn't done some good things - merely that his arrogance is finally showing so evidently that he can't be re-elected. And he is fully aware of that fact, ergo his decision not to run again. What I'd really like to know, is just what was promised/threatened in those closed-door meetings in DC to cause the behaviors we've been witnessing. Formerly canny politicians who were very careful not to let their true colors show have suddenly become brazen, and now are stepping down as a result. Lincoln will make her own announcement soon, I'd wager. And Snyder is already out - interesting, and not at all completely transparent.

  • ThomasSutton
    January 25, 2010 at 10:40 a.m.

    From: Thomas Sutton, US Torture Victim and Political Prisoner. Concerning Marion Berry. THANK YOU, ARKANSAS. Obama would have brought in Bill and Hillary.

  • BRH
    January 25, 2010 at 10:42 a.m.

    Arkansas is losing one of its great public servants.What a shame that at this time of such national distress that we will not have Congressman Berry's leadership and good common sense approach to guide us. Too bad that more of his ideas were not embraced by the majority leadership. Thank you Congressman Berry for your dedicated service.

  • johnwmcmaster
    January 25, 2010 at 11:09 a.m.

    Another one goes down thanks to Obama and his socialist agenda. I only hope that someone with integrity will step up to the plate. We need people to run for office that are not career politicans. Many of the people that will run are nothing but more of the same. Voters need to send a strong message that we have had enough of the same old good boy politics. How about someone that will just read the bills. Someone that will vote against all of the pork barrel spending. Someone that will vote for a federal government balance budget. No more taxes for give away programs. A strong national defense. Someone that will not sell their vote or soul for any reason. Someone that will just be honest. This may be too much to ask in this day and time, I hope not.

  • OldSchoolDad
    January 25, 2010 at 7:47 p.m.

    Thuggetter won't find any of those principles practiced by a national Democrat. They won't accept any of that "nonsense".

  • NickieD
    January 25, 2010 at 7:59 p.m.

    I for being against pork barrel everything... that's for sure. I've had enough of the good ol' boy politics too and a balanced budget would be nice... how to achieve that, I wonder? Get out of 2 wars we can not possibly win in who-gives-a-rosey-sphincter-about-them countries? At over a million a day, that would be a good start... how about welfare reform/reduction... let's stop paying people to reproduce and get them to working... prisoners too. And why do guys on death row get to live 10 more years after commiting and being found guilty of heinous crimes? That is $60K a year plus wasted on those murderers. Of what possible use is a Super Max? Wouldn't lethal injection save us tax payers millions a year?
    Why are all these guys deserting a sinking ship anyway? Could it be that since they sold out their constituents and they get salary for life anyway, why not leave? Good riddance!
    With 2.8 million forclosures last year, millions more out of work, and huge bonuses to those who have engineered this mess, why shouldn't the rats desert? They have theirs don't they?
    It is time for prople who will think of America first... enough kissing of buttocks and being PC, we need logic and reason in DC! PC'ness is stupid!
    Vote out all those who will not quit, send a message... vote out all incumbents.