February 25, 2016
Arizona Republic
EJ Montini

The Matt Salmon who is walking away from Congress in 2016 was explained to me perfectly by the Matt Salmon who walked away from politics in 2003.

Although in 2003 Salmon’s decision was less by choice.

He had spent much of the previous year running for governor of Arizona. His opponent was the state’s then Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

Salmon had served in the Arizona Legislature and  he went on to become part of the "Contract With America" class of idealistic Republicans who got elected to Congress in 1994.

The idealistic candidates who signed the “contract” promised to serve only three terms in Congress. To get in there, do the hard work of making the country better and return to private live.

What happened, of course, is that many, many of those who took the pledge got accustomed to the very cool perks of being an elected representative.

And when their three terms were up they reneged on their promise, often with the lame excuse about there being so much more work to do.

As if that is ever not the case.

Not Salmon.

He kept his word. He walked away.

You’d be hard pressed to find an Arizona politician who ever has done a more honorable thing.

Then he went after the governor’s job.

And in a really tight race he lost to Napolitano.

I spoke to him in January of that year on the day that Napolitano was being inaugurated.

What he said then sounds a lot like what he’s saying now, as he leaves Congress for the second time.

"It doesn't feel weird, not being there (at the inauguration)," he told me in ‘03. "My father and mother always taught me that when one door closes, another opens. I'm excited to start a new lease on life. I'm looking forward to what's going to happen and where I go from here. I'm not sad at all. Things happen for a reason. It's been really hectic since Election Day. And I think I've got some wonderful opportunities."

But didn’t he lament the fact that he wouldn’t be able to lead the state?

“That isn't what voters had in mind, however," he said, laughing. "The public picked a conservative Legislature and a left-of-center governor. They clearly want a divided government, and they want action. They want results in education. They want the economy to turn around. I don't think people will be real patient with any partisan games. And so far, I'm fairly optimistic. I believe there's a chance for that to happen, given the people in office."

I gave him a chance to take some shots at his former opponent and at his colleagues in Congress who didn’t honor their promise. He didn’t take them. He was gracious. Optimistic.

"I just found out that I'm about to become a grandfather," he said. "My oldest daughter, who's been married about a year, is expecting a baby in July. Given that, given the chance to spend more time with my family and, soon, with a new grandchild, I believe I'm incredibly lucky."

He’s a grandfather seven times over, now. And has those same feelings about family.

I asked Salmon if he had interest in another Congressional slot that might open up and he said something I’d guess applies today with his announcement.

"There will be a lot of people vying for that seat," Salmon said, "And as far as I'm concerned, they can have it."

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