Bud Shuster to Retire

U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, a 14-term congressman rebuked by the House ethics committee in the fall for allegedly accepting improper gifts and favoring a lobbyist, said today he will retire at the end of January.

Shuster, R-Pa., cited recent “health scares” and the realization he had “reached the pinnacle of my Congressional career” with recently passed transportation legislation. He said he would leave office Jan. 31.

“I’ve been chairman of the largest and most productive committee in Congress, I have no desire to do less,” Shuster said Thursday from his Capitol Hill office. Shuster in December finished his sixth and last year as chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, having served the maximum time allowed by House rules.

Shuster, 68, also said his wife’s “serious health problems” prompted him to want to spend more time with her. He did not elaborate on his or his wife’s health problems.

“It’s a personal decision,” Darrell Wilson, his chief of staff, said today. “He struggled with it for a long time. It took him a year to make.”

Shuster, who was sworn in Wednesday, said he decided to retire at the end of the month because he wanted to vote for Dennis Hastert as House speaker. Also, by vacating his seat early in the term, residents of the solidly Republican 9th District in south-central Pennsylvania would be out of a representative during what is traditionally a slow period in Congress, he said.

Shuster said he spoke to Gov. Tom Ridge on Wednesday night, and Ridge promised to call a special election quickly.

In the House, Republicans have 221 seats to 211 Democratic seats, with two independents and one seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Julian Dixon, D-Calif.

Lobbying Scandal

In September, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct criticized Shuster for “serious official misconduct” but spared him further penalty.

The committee found Shuster engaged in a “pattern and practice” of allowing his former top aide Ann M. Eppard — who lobbies for companies with business before the transportation panel — to appear before him in his official capacity in the year after her resignation from his staff. This “created the appearance that his official decisions might have been improperly affected,” the committee report said.

Shuster, who has represented the 9th District since 1973 and was re-elected in November without opposition, said he negotiated an agreement with the ethics committee just to end the investigation and admitted no wrongdoing.

In October, 60 Minutes broadcast a tape it said showed Shuster hiding in the back seat of a vehicle driven by Eppard to conceal how often he stayed at her home. Eppard later said the woman driving the car was her sister.

Eppard was fined $5,000 in 1998 after pleading guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of receiving improper compensation. She had been accused of illegally receiving money and gifts to intercede with Shuster and government agencies on behalf of companies threatened by the Big Dig, Boston’s massive federal highway project.

King of Highways

Shuster has said his work on the Transportation Committee, including extensive improvements to the country’s ground and air transportation, will be better remembered than the ethics committee rebuke.

Under his tenure, Congress passed legislation to improve roads and highways throughout the country — the 1998 Transportation Efficiency Act — which authorized $218 billion over five years. He has also pushed to change the funding formula so airline taxes are used for airport improvements rather than for the general fund.

Shuster was well-known for using federal transportation bills to steer funding to projects in Pennsylvania. They include the Bud Shuster Highway, a four-lane highway that runs 53 miles from the turnpike to a town just miles from where his district ends, and the Bud Shuster By Way, a separate, three-mile stretch to bypass his hometown of Everett.

In 1996, Shuster’s son, Bob, unsuccessfully ran for a House seat in a district next to his dad’s. If elected, the Shusters would have become the first father-son team since 1845 to serve concurrently in the House.

Shuster said he was thankful to help thousands of people and author “major legislation to rebuild America.”

“Like my boyhood baseball idol, Lou Gehrig, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth — to have realized my dream of becoming a U.S. Congressman,” he said.

Shuster said he did not know what he would do next.

“Like Scarlett O’Hara, I will think about that tomorrow,” he said.