Saturday, November 6, 2004

Lucas wishes now that he'd kept seat

Congressman felt bound by three-term promise

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - If it weren't for that term limit pledge, U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas says he probably would have opted to stick around a while longer. But what's done is done, Lucas says, and now he's looking forward to life outside of Congress.

The 4th District congressman will retire in January after six years. He promised voters he'd serve only three terms.

Lucas, 71, initially broke the pledge and said he'd run for re-election this year, explaining he didn't want to cede his seat from the conservative district to Republicans - but then he recruited Democrat Nick Clooney to enter the race.

"I became increasingly uncomfortable breaking the term limits pledge," Lucas said recently. "Even though the polls indicated that was not a problem ... I just wasn't comfortable."

Republican Geoff Davis defeated Clooney by a comfortable margin Tuesday.

Looking back, Lucas calls the pledge, "the wrong thing to do."

Lucas, of Richwood, says he hopes to spend more time with his family. He'll work, but won't say what he'll do. He says he won't become a lobbyist.

Lucas will be remembered as a conservative Democrat who voted with Republicans about as often as he voted with his own party.

That, and the fact that Republicans were often courting him to switch parties, enabled Lucas to win the ear of House Republicans leaders on occasion. Most recently, he and other Southern Democrats met with GOP brass and persuaded them to include a tobacco farmer buyout in a tax bill in exchange for their votes on the overall legislation.

But being independent sometimes means isolation. In 2000, he was criticized by Democrats for declining to go to the party convention and support Al Gore's presidential candidacy because the two differed over abortion, gun control and tobacco regulation.

And while Lucas' conservative views may have aligned him with Republicans, that never was enough to endear him to the Kentucky GOP. Lucas was the only Democrat in the Kentucky delegation until Ben Chandler won a special election earlier this year to represent the Lexington area.

Lucas frequently jokes, "When the Democratic federal delegation from Kentucky met in Washington, and that was every morning when I shaved about 6:30 a.m., there was total unanimity of thought."

Joking aside, Lucas says Republicans could have been friendlier. He said he was never invited to monthly meetings that the rest of the state's members of Congress attended.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell says the meetings were designed for GOP members only. Asked for his views on the retiring lawmaker, McConnell had little to say.

"I couldn't tell you that I really know Ken Lucas," McConnell said, adding that Lucas "never made an effort to come over to get to know me."

Lucas shakes his head, saying if he was in the majority party he would have tried to make the one outsider feel more comfortable within the delegation.

Lucas served on the Budget Committee, but the former financial planner gave that up for a spot on the Financial Services Committee. It was there that he helped shape a far-reaching corporate responsibility law.

Lucas says the one vote he really wishes he could change was the one he cast to give the president the authority to go to war in Iraq, especially since he believes Saddam Hussein did not possess the weapons of mass destruction that were the main rationale for invading Iraq.

"My biggest regret was having voted for the war," he said. "I was misled at best and lied to at worst."

However, Lucas says in general he is proud of most of the votes he cast and particularly proud of his independent views.

"There are too many people on both sides of the aisle that vote the party line," he said. "I like to say you could send a robot to Washington to do that."

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