Kansas' lone Democrat in Congress to retire

Health wasn’t the reason. Neither was politics and the tough votes he’d cast lately.

Instead, U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa, said his unexpected decision not to seek re-election next year was part of an earlier plan to serve for about 12 years.

“It feels like a tremendous burden is off of my shoulders,” Moore told reporters Monday night after landing at Kansas City International Airport following a flight from Washington.

Moore, 64, the sole Democrat in Kansas’ congressional delegation, said he will discuss his decision more today at a news conference. Moore issued a statement earlier Monday in which he called the 3rd Congressional District job “tiring” and added: “I have always sought to represent the moderate mainstream of the district, which I hope now will host a robust competition between the two parties to fill this congressional seat.”

The statement did not address speculation that his health may be a factor, even though a leading Democrat said some of Moore’s friends recently had approached him to express concerns about him looking weary.

Moore acknowledged he saw a doctor Monday morning, but was only advised he needed a hernia operation. “Beyond that, I’m fine,” he said.

Moore plans to complete his term, which ends in January 2011.

But the Kansas GOP wasted no time kicking into overdrive with six Republicans either announcing campaigns by noon, or saying they were thinking about getting in the race in the coming weeks. Four others —Patricia Lightner, Daniel Gilyeat, Thomas Scherer and John Rysavy — had entered the race before Moore’s decision.

The sharp interest guaranteed a GOP primary in August.

“It’s like a turkey shoot over there,” said Republican political consultant Jeff Roe. “Everyone who’s ever planted a yard sign thinks he’s a congressman today.”

First out of the gate was state

Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican who blasted an e-mail districtwide at 9:22 a.m. to announce that he was exploring the race.

“We must have new energy and a fresh response,” Yoder said.

Other GOP candidates expressing strong interest: state Sens. Karin Brownlee and Jeff Colyer; former Johnson County chair candidate Charlotte O’Hara; attorney Greg Musil; and former state Sen. Nick Jordan, who lost to Moore in 2008.

All said they expect to make a firm decision in the next 10 days to two weeks.

Reaction to Moore’s announcement fell along party lines with Democrats, including President Obama, congratulating him for a job well done and Republicans expressing glee that he’s leaving.

“Votersæ.æ.æ. have been making it clear that they were done with Dennis Moore misleading them, misrepresenting them in Congress, and just plain being missing in action when they wanted to talk to their congressman,” said Keith Esau, GOP chairman in the 3rd District.

Moore was heavily criticized for not holding town hall meetings during the August recess and for backing Democratic health care reform and climate change bills as well as the stimulus package.

However, Kansas’ Republican Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts also thanked Moore for his service.

Democrat Jim Bergfalk, who lives in Johnson County, called Moore “one of the least partisan guys I’ve known, but also very, very effective.”

On the Democratic side, speculation about possible successors centered on former Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Carol Marinovich, current Mayor and CEO Joe Reardon, and Johnson County Democratic Party chairman Bill Roy Jr.

None could be reached for comment on Monday.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat from Olathe, is expected to have the right of first refusal, one party member said. Another name mentioned is freshman state Rep. Mike Slattery of Mission, whose father served as Kansas’ 2nd District congressman.