Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) announced Friday he will not seek re-election.
“This election, my name will not be on the ballot,” Ruppersberger said in a video released to reporters. “I have decided to retire to spend more time with my family.”
The departure, whispered about for months, creates yet another opening in Maryland’s federal delegation. The window of opportunity, however, may benefit one candidate more than any other.
Ruppersberger said he was “sad” and described his decision as one of the hardest he’s had to make.
“I really love what I’m doing but it wasn’t really fair to my family, especially my wife,” he said.
Ruppersberger said he looks forward to more time with his family and his five grandchildren, whose ages range from 3-16.
“My true love is my grandkids, my wife and my family,” he said.
Ruppersberger will be 78 at the end of the month. His retirement caps a nearly four-decade run in state politics that began with his election to the Baltimore County Council in 1986.
He did not lose an election after winning the county council seat.
“Dutch is a wonderful friend and he’s had an extraordinary career, from his time as a prosecutor, to county executive, to serving in the Congress of the United States,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who last year announced he would also retire rather than seek a fourth term.
Cardin especially saluted Ruppersberger’s service on the House Intelligence Committee, “when he couldn’t issue a press release” because of the panel’s important and confidential work.
“He’s really been a model public servant and he’s going to be missed,” he said.
Prior to running for office, Ruppersberger, a young attorney, prosecuted drug trafficking cases in Baltimore County.
In 1975, while working as a prosecutor, he was involved in a serious car crash that nearly claimed his life. Ruppersberger, 28, was a patient for a month, receiving 47 pints of blood, at what would later become the University of Maryland R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.
“My life was saved at Shock Trauma,” Ruppersberger told reporters Friday.
In his trademark self-deprecating style, he also credited the facility with setting him on a political path.
“I know I had brain damage or I would not be in politics,” he said.
Ruppersberger was an ardent supporter of the facility personally and politically after the crash, which took its toll on Ruppersberger, who frequently underwent additional treatments and procedures stemming from multiple injuries.
The Cockeysville Democrat’s 11 terms in the U.S House of Representatives was preceded by two terms as Baltimore County executive.
“Dutch’s dedication to bettering the lives of Marylanders has always driven him forward — from his tenure in Congress to his time as Baltimore County Executive to his work outside of elected office, serving as the vice chairman of the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Board of Visitors,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) said in a statement. “His commitment — and the commitment of his wife Kay and family — to our state are clear. He’ll be missed here in Congress but once Team Maryland, always Team Maryland.”
In 2002, Ruppersberger briefly eyed a run for governor, but said he backed out after “I realized I couldn’t win because of where the votes were in the Washington suburbs.”
He said that Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th) approached him to run for the congressional seat then held by Robert Ehrlich, who went on to become the first Republican Maryland governor in nearly four decades. Ruppersberger replaced Ehrlich in Congress and wanted to be on the House Intelligence Committee — a plumb assignment not typically given to freshmen members of Congress.
“I was a former prosecutor,” he said. “I like action. I like to make a difference. I hate bullies,” he said, adding a position on the committee was “a job that was made for me.”
Currently, he serves on the House Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee. His district includes the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, U.S. Cyber Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground and other installations.
“As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, he delivered — creating jobs, fighting for social justice, and supporting a strong military,” Democratic former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) said in a statement. “Over his decades of service, he has been a champion for local military bases in Aberdeen and Fort Meade, as well as the National Security Agency and Naval Academy. Maryland veterans knew they could count on Dutch to insist that they get the medical care they need and are entitled to, and his work will benefit veterans across our nation for years to come.
“His jolly wit, dedicated work ethic, and unflagging patriotism will be missed in the delegation and in the halls of Congress, and I congratulate him and thank him for his distinguished service to our state,” Mikulski said.
Prior to his time on the House Appropriations Committee, Ruppersberger served a dozen years on the House Intelligence Committee, including a stint as the panel’s top Democrat.
While in office, Ruppersberger spearheaded the creation of Operation Hero Miles. The program uses donated frequent flier miles to help deployed military personnel return home without out-of-pocket expenses for connecting commercial flights. Later, Ruppersberger also helped create the related Hotels for Heroes program.
Ruppersberger said his greatest accomplishments centered around constituent service — a focus he said he learned coming up from the county council and as executive.
“You can never forget constituent service,” he said. “That is where the rubber meets the road.”
Ruppersberger’s retirement leaves three of the state’s eight congressional seats open in the 2024 election.
Rep. David Trone (D-6th) announced in May that he would forego seeking a fourth term to run for U.S. Senate following Cardin’s announcement.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd) set off a succession scramble following his surprise October retirement announcement.
Ruppersberger’s decision was less of a surprise, though the timing of an announcement was never certain but there were signs.
The once energetic fundraiser began to slow his efforts.
As of the most recent Sept. 30 federal report, he had $823,919.79 cash on hand. He raised $59,962.85 between July 1 and Sept.30 and spent $111,846.61 in that period. For the cycle, he raised $277,100.79 so far and spent $441,445.89. The next Federal Elections Commission report is due Jan. 31.
Candidates interested in the office have until Feb. 9 to file.
Ruppersberger’s announcement may benefit one candidate above others.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. (D) last year formed an exploratory committee for the seat.
Olszewski has not yet officially filed with the Federal Elections Commission.
The exploratory committee allowed him to start raising money. Anything raised would be subject to federal limits. It could be rolled over into a future campaign had Ruppersberger delayed his retirement.
It is not clear how much Olszewski has raised or spent so far. He is only required to report his fundraising efforts if he announces his candidacy or spends more than $5,000 on election-related activities.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.