Long-time House member will give up his seat to focus on his family
By TIM HEARDEN
CHICO, Calif. -- U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, a walnut and plum farmer who is the highest-ranking Western Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, will retire after more than a quarter-century in Congress.
Herger, who's perhaps best known in agricultural circles for legislation benefiting timber counties, told a gathering here Jan. 10 that it was time to focus on his family and grandchildren "before they grow up."
"I have been blessed with the privilege of serving my community, district, state and country for 35 years and being part of some of the most important events in our nation's history," Herger, 66, said in prepared remarks. "That privilege came with many sacrifices, the foremost of which was all the time spent away from my family and my home here in Northern California."
His announcement set the region's political wheels in motion. Rice grower and state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, will run for the seat with Herger's blessing. Herger supported LaMalfa in the Senate primary in 2010 because the two share an agricultural background.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, announced late Jan. 10 he won't seek re-election but will instead run for the Senate if LaMalfa is elected to Congress.
A Sutter County native who grew up on his family's cattle ranch in Rio Oso, Calif., Herger ran his family's small gas company before being elected to a local school board and later to the state Assembly. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986.
While there, he teamed with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to craft the Quincy Library Group legislation in the late 1990s that opened the door for managed timber harvests in three national forests in northeastern California. Though the project was slowed by litigation, Herger said the bill was his greatest achievement.
He also championed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, which repays counties for cutbacks in timber harvest receipts.
As a past ranking member of the House subcommittee on trade, Herger prodded federal officials to take bolder steps to expand U.S. beef trade with Japan and pushed for ratification of the trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
Last year, Herger co-sponsored legislation that would do away with the $5 billion annual subsidy that provides a tax credit of 45 cents a gallon to oil refiners who mix gasoline with ethanol, which is mainly made from corn. The bill would also repeal a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol.
The tax credit expired Dec. 31 without being renewed by Congress.
LaMalfa has been a vocal advocate for Siskiyou County ranchers in their dispute with the state Department of Fish and Game over required permits for irrigation. He joins two Republicans and a Democrat who were already seeking Herger's seat.
U.S. Rep. Wally Herger
Residence: Chico, Calif.
Occupation: Walnut and plum farmer
Political career: East Nicolaus School Board, 1976-1980; California State Assembly, 1980-1986; U.S. House of Representatives, 1987-present
Family: Wife Pamela, 9 children, 11 grandchildren