WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, in her 10th term representing a congressional district along California's Central Coast, said Wednesday that she will not run for re-election.
In a statement, Capps said it was time for her to return to her home and her family. Capps succeeded her late husband, Walter, who died of a heart attack nine months into his first term in office.
A former nurse, the 77-year-old Capps has served on the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee. Over the years, she has often focused on health issues with legislation that included increasing the availability of emergency defibrillators, expanding opportunities for people to get into nursing and improving Medicare coverage for patients suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.
Capps has led efforts among California Democrats to permanently ban new exploration and drilling for oil and gas along the California coast. She pointed to a 1969 oil spill near her hometown of Santa Barbara to explain her opposition, saying an oil spill could devastate local economies that rely on tourism.
"It's been a hard decision to make, for I have loved this job," Capps said, adding that "life moves on."
President Barack Obama praised her service in a statement.
"She has led efforts to increase access to health care, improve mental health services, detect and prevent domestic violence, protect our environment, and improve education — all while consistently being voted the 'nicest member of Congress,'" Obama said "Her experience, optimism, and tenacity will be missed, but I look forward to working with Congresswoman Capps over the next two years."
Capps' district became more competitive after an independent citizens panel in 2011 redrew congressional boundaries without regard to incumbency. The district includes all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and part of Ventura County. Capps won in November by 3.8 percentage points over Republican Chris Mitchum, son of the late actor Robert Mitchum.
Mitchum got little financial help from the national GOP. The campaign arm for House Democrats spent about $170,000 during the campaign's closing days to provide Capps with some insurance against an upset.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's chairman issued a statement saying he was confident that voters will keep the seat in Democratic hands. Republicans said the district "instantly becomes a more likely pick-up opportunity."
The number of registered Democratic voters in the district exceeds the number of registered Republican voters by about 3 percentage points.
Justin Fareed, a Republican who narrowly missed advancing to the general election last year, said Wednesday he would run for Capps' seat again and has raised about $100,000 for that effort.
Meanwhile, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider formally entered the race as a Democrat. She is serving her second term as mayor. Also, some Democrats in Washington say the congresswoman's daughter, Laura Burton Capps, is considered one of several potential candidates. She is a public affairs consultant and a former Democratic aide. She declined to comment but left open the possibility of a bid in a Twitter comment.
Capps is the eighth House member and fifth Democrat to announce he or she will not seek re-election to the chamber next year. There are also three vacancies in the 435-member House.
Associated Press write Alan Fram contributed to this report.