Rep. Jerry Lewis announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of this term after 46 years in elected office and 33 years representing San Bernardino and Riverside County in Congress. Lewis is the longest-serving Republican member of Congress from California in history, and the first member from the state to be Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Lewis, who is currently the Chairman Emeritus of the House Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement on his retirement plans:
"I will not seek re-election to the Congress in 2012. After months of consultation with loved ones and family, my wife Arlene and I have decided to retire from public life. We are deeply grateful to so many who have provided their support over the years. I have worked hard to justify that support. Thank you all and may God continue to bless America."
Lewis, who began his public service as a member of the San Bernardino Board of Education in 1965, was elected to the State Assembly in 1968. While serving in the Legislature, he authored bills creating the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the state's early childcare system, and establishing the California Newsman's Shield Law, among many others.
When Congresswoman Shirley Pettis announced her retirement in 1978, Lewis decided to move to the national scene. He won the Republican nomination for the 35th Congressional District, which at the time included 27,000 square miles covering most of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. He was elected to Congress on Nov. 7, 1978 with 61 percent of the vote.
The population in the two counties has grown tremendously, and the district has become more concentrated. The current Congressional District -- now the 41st - takes in the East San Bernardino Valley, the San Bernardino Mountains and a portion of the Mojave Desert, along with part of the San Jacinto Valley and Desert Hot Springs in Riverside County. The California Redistricting Commission further segmented the district this year, leaving Lewis's home in a district that stretches from Redlands to Rancho Cucamonga in the San Bernardino Valley.
Lewis said he is very proud of the record he has established in his years in the state legislature and Congress. A strong supporter of small businesses, Lewis introduced legislation in his first year in Congress to target more federal research dollars to small innovative firms -- like those he knew in San Bernardino County. Although it took three years, the bill became law in 1982. It was the beginning of a career-long support for small businesses that Lewis has capped in recent years by directing tens of millions of dollars to innovative small defense firms in San Bernardino County.
Through the years, Lewis has been a principal player in a number of issues of importance to the nation and California. He was the original sponsor of legislation that created the U.S. Double-Eagle Coin, which has successfully competed with the South African Kruggerand. In 1986, he wrote the original law that established the Lower Colorado River water allocation, which has brought drinking water to much of Southern California. Throughout the 1980s, he worked with former California Congressman Vic Fazio to provide funding to refurbish the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol.
In his early career, Lewis rose through the ranks of the Republican House leadership. He eventually was elected as Republican Conference Chairman, the No. 3 position on a team that included former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. He led a successful campaign to recruit women and minority candidates, and was the lead House floor manager helping pass President George H.W. Bush's 1991 deficit-reduction legislation, which ultimately eliminated the federal deficit a few years later.
The Appropriations Committee has been Lewis's principal legislative home throughout his career. He capped that service when he became Chairman of the committee in 2005. During his term as chairman, the committee eliminated 53 wasteful or non-performing federal programs and voted to eliminate funding for 95 more unnecessary programs. The committee reduced spending on nearly all domestic programs below levels requested by the president.
Lewis set the tone for fiscal restraint when Republicans first became the majority party in the House in 1994. He was named chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies. Within months, Lewis cut nearly $8 billion in wasteful spending and programs. At the same time, he established a watchdog program that has cleaned up major fraud rings in federal housing programs. He ensured that funding would continue for the Space Station and Space Shuttle programs, and worked to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency one of the most efficient programs in government.
He put aside party differences and became a personal friend and ally to directors in all three programs. He created the "House the Congress Built" program and joined with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo to personally work on numerous Habitat for Humanity houses. Through his close relationship with FEMA Director James Lee Witt, Lewis brought billions of dollars to California for renovation of freeway bridges and to make many medical centers earthquake resistant. He convinced NASA Director Dan Goldin to donate a radio telescope set to be retired at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Network in the High Desert to the Center for Education Excellence in Apple Valley. The Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope program has allowed thousands of school children around the world to work on actual space research with NASA scientists.
From 1999-2005, Congressman Lewis was chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Within a year, he reversed a decade-long decline in spending on our nation's defense, and guided legislation that provided a pay increase and other benefits for our military personnel. He was a primary supporter of visionary weapons systems like the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and the Army's more agile modern force. He was also a congressional leader in supporting the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he has been one of the sharpest watchdogs insisting that the Pentagon perform adequate testing before rushing into expensive weapons systems like the F-22 fighter.
Throughout his years in Congress, Lewis has made a priority of looking out for the interests of the Inland Empire. He secured funding for improvements that have modernized Ontario International Airport. He sponsored legislation that required the Air Force to transfer George Air Force Base in Victorville and Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino to local agencies at minimal cost -- and has secured nearly $150 million for improvements at the two former bases.
Beyond the refurbishing of the bases -- which has brought thousands of new jobs to the area, Lewis is proud of his work with local officials on a number of high-profile projects, including:
· The creation and advancement of Loma Linda University Medical Center's Proton Beam treatment center. Lewis convinced the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to provide startup funds for the project in 1988 after federal health officials refused to back it. The creation of that first center has led to the installation of many others across the nation, and successfully treated thousands of Americans for prostate and breast cancer. Lewis has helped secure nearly $150 million in federal funds for health care programs, as well as for innovative research on the effects of radiation on astronauts.
· A pilot program that became a national model for public housing reform is showing dramatic success in Highland, Redlands, San Bernardino and the county. Using a special $15 million fund created by Congressman Lewis, the local agencies have refurbished and are helping low-income families take ownership of hundreds of abandoned houses that had been repossessed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition to giving many people their first chance at owning a home, the program has the potential to revitalize neighborhoods that were in decline because of the abandoned homes.
· The dedication of the Seven Oaks Dam in 1999 completed a decades-long effort on a flood control project that protects millions of people's lives and saves billions in potential flood damage to homes and businesses along the Santa Ana River. Working closely with the late Congressman George Brown, Lewis fought to ensure that the dam would receive first priority in the billion-dollar flood control project that stretches through four counties. The completion of this dam not only protects thousands of San Bernardino County homeowners from future floods, but has eliminated the annual cost of flood insurance for most of them.
· The elimination of more than a million dead trees to reduce fire danger in and around the San Bernardino National Forest. Responding to the terrible devastation caused to the forest by drought and bark beetles, Congressman Lewis placed special riders in a series of appropriations bills that sent nearly $100 million to the Forest Service, state and county to reduce the problem. He worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to secure $500 million more to eliminate fire dangers throughout Southern California. As a result of the work with San Bernardino County and forest service officials, fire danger has been dramatically reduced in the past few years.
· Many other projects that have improved the quality of life for local residents. Lewis has brought federal funding to support local officials in refurbishing and reopening public swimming pools in San Bernardino and Barstow. The cooperation has led to the strengthening and modernization of the historic Santa Fe Depot and San Bernardino County Courthouse. It helped California State University, San Bernardino create a Water Resources Institute and University of Redlands create a geo-sciences program. Major road improvements have reduced terrible traffic problems along Interstate 15 in the High Desert and around Ontario International Airport.