Wally Herger will not run again
Longtime North State congressman wants to spend time with his family
After 35 years in public office—beginning in 1977 as a member of the East Nicholas High School Board of Trustees and ending as a 13-term member of Congress—Wally Herger Jr. has decided to retire from politics.
On Tuesday (Jan. 10) the 66-year-old congressman held a press conference at the Chico Holiday Inn and told a gathering of reporters and a few supporters that he would not seek re-election this year.
Herger’s explanation for his decision is both clichéd and reasonable—he wants to spend more time with his wife, Pam, and their large family.
“We have a special announcement to make,” he began. “Pam and I have been talking for a long time that we would like to eventually spend more time with our children and 11—and soon to be 12—grandchildren. So I am here to make an announcement this morning that I will not be seeking re-election for the congressional district.”
He said that he had no idea 35 years ago when he ran for school board that he would eventually serve as a member of the state Assembly (1980 to 1986) and then have a 25-year career in Washington representing the largest congressional district in California.
In the latter two cases, Herger succeeded Gene Chappie, who endorsed Herger to fill his vacated seat both times. Herger, in turn, has endorsed state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, a Richvale rice farmer, to fill his seat.
In 1996, Herger’s father, Walter Sr., told the CN&R that as a young man Wally never expressed just what he wanted to do for a living. He toyed with the idea of running for county supervisor, but told his dad he thought that was a dead-end politically.
“When he ran for Assembly, I told him, ‘I’ll loan you $20,000, and if you win you have to pay me back,’ ” the old man recalled. “That was the last time I loaned him money. He did pay it back.”
Herger was seldom seriously challenged while he was in Congress, winning nine straight elections from 1990 to 2006 with more than 60 percent of the vote. In 2008 he defeated Democratic challenger Jeff Morris, a Trinity County supervisor, with 58 percent of the vote, and in 2010 he beat Democrat Jim Reed with 57 percent of the vote.
At the press conference Herger said his political career had been a “humbling experience to be able to have the voters, to be able to have our friends and neighbors, the constituents here in Northern California, give me the privilege to represent them in more than 30 primaries and general elections.”
Herger said there was no single incident or reason for his decision and that 35 years is simply a long time.
“I still have the same fire in my belly, I think, as I did some 35 years ago,” he said. “The issues are just as important, but I think that there comes a time when you’d like to spend time with your family. This is not a family-friendly job, as you might guess.”
He said he is sorry to be leaving office without a balanced federal budget and that one of his proudest achievements was the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act of 1998 that he helped write with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to balance forest protection with the timber industry and fire protection.
In response to a question as to whether his health played a factor in his decision, Herger said he in very good shape physically. He also said last year’s redistricting in California, which altered his district by dropping parts of Sutter and Yuba counties and adding more of Lassen and Shasta counties, had no effect, even though he said as recently as last August that he was definitely running for re-election this year.
“The new district is a very good district and is basically the same district I represented 10 years ago,” he said. “You always miss friends that you’d like to represent again, but that really did not rule into it.”
When asked if he was going to continue to live in Chico—he has a house in Canyon Oaks—he said he was “going to stay in the North State.
“I continue to have roots with a ranch and a small family business in Sutter County.”
He was referring to the 200-acre dairy farm in Rio Oso he grew up on and the propane business his father started in 1969 that Herger still owns.
Herger met and married his first wife, Diane, while he was a senior and she was a junior at East Nicholas High School. They had two children before they divorced after three years of marriage. When he married his current wife, he became a Mormon, and not surprisingly, perhaps, at the press conference he endorsed fellow Mormon Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate.