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Longtime Congressman David Price to retire

Posted October 18, 2021 11:39 a.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2021 11:07 p.m. EDT

— Democratic Congressman David Price, who has represented much of the Triangle in the U.S. House for more than 30 years, said Monday that he won't seek re-election next year and will retire at the end of his term in December 2022.

"It's not an easy decision but one I feel confident in," Price told WRAL News in a one-on-one interview. "I'm very grateful for the people who have made this period of service possible."

Price, 81, who has represented the 4th Congressional District for all but two years since 1987, said he thought about retiring several years ago. But when Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, he put it off to provide some leadership in the U.S. House if the Democrats were to regain the majority, which they did in 2018.

He bemoaned the "growing polarization ... and growing dysfunction" of Congress, saying members shouldn't be there to promote themselves and their agendas. Rather, he said, they should be there to "learn the ropes and figure out how to make it work" for the people who elected them.

"Democracy isn't just about elections," he said. "Even more, it's about what happens between elections."

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Duke University political science professor, Price was first elected to Congress in 1986. He calls his time in the U.S. House "the impossible dream," saying he's never lost "that sense of amazement."

"I didn't grow up thinking I would be in politics," he said of his youth in eastern Tennessee, "but I did grow up thinking public service was the very best thing one could do."

After eight years in office, Price narrowly lost his 1994 re-election bid to former Raleigh Police Chief Fred Heineman during a Republican wave that saw the GOP gain control of Congress. He now says the loss provided him with an opportunity to listen to more people in the Triangle and become more attuned to their needs. He then defeated Heinemen in 1996 and has been easily re-elected every two years since then.

His retirement announcement brought plaudits from across the aisle for his service.

"David Price is a good man and public servant," Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement. "It has been a pleasure to serve alongside Congressman Price and work closely with him on a bipartisan basis on issues ranging from disaster recovery funding to economic development and infrastructure improvements."

"Congressman Price has dedicated his life to moving our state forward and ensuring North Carolina families are able to live a healthier, more prosperous life," Bobbie Richardson, chairwoman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said in a statement. "His wisdom, influence and leadership will be sorely missed in the halls of Congress."

State Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, who has expressed interest in the past in running for Congress, essentially took aim at the 4th District seat Price will leave open.

"If we're going to deliver quality education and child care to all, protect reproductive health rights and combat the climate crisis, we'll need a proven fighter for North Carolina," Nickel said in a statement. "I've fought for these issues as a North Carolina senator. I'm ready to take that fight to Washington, D.C."

Price cited securing funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency complex in Research Triangle Park, the North Carolina National Guard headquarters in Raleigh and other infrastructure upgrades among his "meaningful achievements" in Congress. But he said he has "no sense of closure" as his time in office winds down, noting there's always "a lot more to do."

Over the next 14½ months, he said, he plans to focus on more funding for high-speed rail projects in North Carolina and expanding affordable housing nationwide as Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development  Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Housing is a front-burner issue," he said. "It hasn't always been recognized that way, but it belongs right up there with education and health care."

Price said he also will continue to press for passage of President Joe Biden's massive Build Back Better program, which is still trying to be trimmed enough to gain more congressional support. The U.S. cannot continue to defer investment in the nation's infrastructure, he said.

"It will be a huge disappointment if we cannot redeem this moment," he said, noting that the nation is "at an inflection point right now" following Trump's four years in the White House.

"On balance, I'm more hopeful than concerned" about the future, he said. "But I do see clouds on the horizon. ... There are storm clouds, and we ignore those clouds at our peril."