Kentucky's 1st District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield has announced he is not running for re-election in 2016.
The announcement comes during Whitfield's 11th term representing the 35 counties of Kentucky's 1st Congressional district.
Whitfield's longtime district director Michael Pape tells WKMS News he will be seeking the Republican nomination to fill the seat.
Pape, 47, has served with Whitfield since he was first elected in 1994. He says he will be the most qualified candidate in what could be a crowded field.
“Whoever it is, I don’t think there will be any one person who has anymore experience with this 1st Congressional District, its people and the issues than me," Pape said.
Monday, an article published at the Lexington Herald-Leader's website speculated that Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer - a 1st District native - might be interested in running for Whitfield's seat "if it ever comes available." Comer ran unsuccessfully this year for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, losing to Matt Bevin by 83 votes.
Meanwhile, Pape said a recent ethics probe did not factor into the 72-year-old Congressman's decision to retire.
“This is a decision that, ‘Hey, I want to do some other things yet in my life and I want to have a little more time on my own’," Pape said. "He said, ‘If I do that, I won’t be serving the people of the 1st District the way they deserve to be served’."
Whitfield's office released the following statement regarding his decision not to run again:
“Representing the people of the 1st District for 21 years has been an honor,” said Whitfield. “I will cherish forever the countless opportunities to work with them to nurture and strengthen the 35 counties comprising Kentucky’s First District.
“Among many memorable achievements, I am particularly proud of helping to establish the Federal Health Benefit Program for employees of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant; creating a National Forest at Land between the Lakes; providing much needed funding for our troops at Fort Campbell; promoting the utilization of our abundant fossil fuels; and ensuring the humane treatment of animals.
“My staff in Kentucky and Washington D.C. has been superb. Their commitment to excellence allowed me to serve the people of the 1st District to the best of my ability.
“I want to thank my colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate for the many courtesies they extended to me. To Connie, my wife, my heartfelt thanks for her resilience and her many contributions. I also thank my mother for her unwavering support.
“While many Americans are frustrated with the institution of Congress, I still believe that politics is a worthy vocation and I know many men and women of character will always be willing to serve.
"Winston Churchill once said, 'We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Politics is and will always be an honorable way to serve.”
Reactions from political leaders are already coming in.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made the following statement regarding the announcement:
“I first want to commend my good friend Congressman Ed Whitfield on his outstanding career in the United States House of Representatives. Elected in 1994, Ed has delivered for Kentucky at every turn, whether it was championing and protecting the Land Between the Lakes, helping the employees of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and their families, or working to support our troops at Fort Campbell. As Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, Ed has also been an indispensable ally in pushing back against the Obama Administration’s War on Coal. Ed Whitfield was the first Republican elected to the First District, making him a trailblazer for the Republican Party in Western Kentucky. And it is thanks to his hard work and dedication that we can today celebrate the growth of a robust two-party system in the western region of the Bluegrass State. Ed’s leadership and more than two decades of steadfast service to his constituents and our Commonwealth will continue to be an inspiration to myself and the entire Kentucky delegation. His long career is a clear and lasting testament to all the good that can be accomplished in a life of public service. We will miss him in the Capitol.”
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden:
“Congressman Ed Whitfield has been a strong voice in Washington on behalf of his constituents and his leadership in Washington will be sorely missed. Ed has been a fighter for Kentucky’s coal industry and he worked each and every day to push back against the unilateral regulations from the Obama Administration that jeopardized the Commonwealth’s livelihood. Congressman Whitfield’s devotion to his district also includes fighting on behalf of the Paducah DOE site, Fort Campbell and Kentucky’s agriculture industry. Ed Whitfield’s leadership will be missed in the halls of the Capitol, but I wish him well in the next chapter of his life.”
We will update this post with more information as it becomes available.