Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd) said Thursday he will not seek a 10th term in office in 2024.
In the surprise announcement, Sarbanes said he was voluntarily stepping down at the end of his current term to return to work in the nonprofit sector.
“I believe in public service. My siblings and I grew up with the teaching that there are many ways to serve. Being in Congress is one of them — a truly humbling opportunity to make a difference,” Sarbanes said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “But before coming to Congress, I also found great reward in working with nonprofits, volunteering and otherwise contributing to my community. That too is a powerful form of public service. For some time now, I have found myself drawn back to that kind of work — wanting to explore the many opportunities to serve that exist outside of elected office. With that in mind, I have decided not to seek re-election in 2024. While I am making this announcement today — specifically for the benefit of candidates interested in running for my seat in next year’s election — I’m not going anywhere for the next fourteen months. That’s what’s left in my term and I’m committed to finishing strong.”
Tributes from colleagues and supporters quickly followed the announcement.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th) called Sarbanes “a vigorous defender” of American democracy.
“Thanks to his leadership, the House passed the For The People Act to help Congress function more ethically, transparently, and effectively,” said Hoyer in a statement. “We also worked together to help the House advance the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. While our effort to enact those crucial laws continues, I have faith that John’s devotion to protecting voting rights and strengthening Americans’ faith in their democracy will endure.”
Sarbanes had once been considered a potential future candidate for U.S. Senate, where his father, Paul Sarbanes once served. That seat is currently held by Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who is also not seeking re-election in 2024.
But in recent reports, Sarbanes appeared to be winding down his fundraising efforts. He raised just $2,000 in the second quarter of this year.
Since he was first elected in 2006 to succeed Cardin — who succeeded his father in the upper chamber — the younger Sarbanes has been a leading voice for campaign finance reform in Congress.
“Congressman Sarbanes was never in politics for money or power or access. He answered the call to service and used his time in Congress to make a difference. No matter what he was doing, when we hit a snag, he was only a phone call away. He never gave up,” said Tiffany Muller, president of the advocacy groups End Citizens United and Let America Vote. “There would be no democracy movement without Congressman Sarbanes. Long before it was the cause du jour, he was there, pouring his heart and soul into strengthening our democracy and putting power back into the hands of the people.”
In the previous Congress, Sarbanes was the lead sponsor of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping political reform package that addressed everything from voters’ rights to partisan gerrymandering to campaign finance reform. It passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
In July, Sarbanes and Democratic colleagues reintroduced the bill as the Freedom to Vote Act.
As Sarbanes fought for election reforms, he did so for ten years from what was described as one of the most starkly gerrymandered districts in the country.
Maryland’s newest congressional map, which went into effect for the 2022 election, created far more compact districts — and for Sarbanes that meant he no longer lived in his district, which was about 60% new territory. He told Maryland Matters in August that he spent the first half year of the new congressional term getting to know his new constituents and hosting tele-town halls.
Cardin said he was “sorry to hear” the news of Sarbanes’ decision not to run.
“What an incredible career he has had representing the people of Maryland,” Cardin said in a statement. “He stands for transparency and honesty in elections and the way our system of government operates. What he has done on environmental education — Leave No Child Inside. In so many areas, he has added to the quality of life for Marylanders and the integrity of our political system.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) praised Sarbanes for his “fierce commitment to public service, his humility, and his deep love” for the state.
“As a proud son of Baltimore, John never wavers from the values he holds so dear and always puts people over politics, reflecting the high standard set by the great Senator Paul Sarbanes,” said Van Hollen. “That holds true for John’s work every day, whether it’s defending our democracy or protecting the Bay or fighting for affordable health care for all.”
Sarbanes, in his statement announcing his decision, credited his father for his decision to seek public office in his own right.
“It will come as a surprise to no one that the example of my late father, Senator Paul Sarbanes, greatly influenced my decision to enter politics,” John Sarbanes said in his statement. “Within my own limitations, I’ve strived to meet the standard of thoughtfulness and integrity that he brought to public service.”
The announcement, which caught many by surprise, places at least two congressional seats up for grabs at the same time there is a hotly contested open-seat U.S. Senate race.
Rep. David Trone (D-6th) is giving up his seat to take a shot in the Democratic primary to succeed Cardin.
Two other Democrats, including Hoyer and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) have yet to make announcements about their own political futures and the coming election.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report. This breaking news story was updated.