Arguably the most interesting thing about Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) is his highly unusual career trajectory, which has no real rival in modern times. The trajectory will apparently end next year, however, when Coats retires from Congress (for the second time).
“Today I am announcing that I will not seek re-election to the United States Senate. This was not an easy decision,” Coats said in a statement, “While I believe I am well-positioned to run a successful campaign for another six-year term, I have concluded that the time has come to pass this demanding job to the next generation of leaders.”
The Republican Hoosier will remain in office through the end of his term. The announcement was just made this morning, so it’s tough to start looking ahead to the open-seat race, though Indiana is arguably the reddest state in the Midwest and Republicans will probably be confident about keeping the seat. Keep an eye on former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) and former Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D), though.
But what I’ve always liked about the Coats story is the way in which his career has played out in a unique way.
The Republican lawmaker served in the U.S. House throughout the 1980s, before replacing Dan Quayle in the Senate once Quayle became vice president. Coats won a term of his own in 1992 then retired in 1998. He added a four-year stint as the Bush/Cheney ambassador to Germany before doing exactly what everyone in his position does – Coats moved back to the D.C. area and became a very well paid corporate lobbyist.
And that’s where Coats’ career took an odd turn.
In 2010, in the midst of the Tea Party takeover of Republican politics, Coats decided he’d already spent several years on K Street and it was time for a comeback bid. It was a curious move under the circumstances – this was a year in which right-wing economic populism was ascendant and the notion of Republicans electing a corporate lobbyist for the banking industry seemed like a bizarre choice.
Complicating matters, Coats didn’t actually own a home in Indiana – he’d moved out of the state in the ’90s – and wasn’t even registered to vote in the state. It seemed like an odd pitch to Hoosiers: vote for the D.C. insider and corporate lobbyist who left Indiana more than a decade ago and never came back.
But Indiana is Indiana, and 2010 was 2010, so Coats won easily. For all the talk in recent years about the “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the K Street lobbying industry, here was a rare example of the door spinning in the other direction.
When Cooper Industries, a century-old manufacturing company based in Texas, moved its headquarters to Bermuda to slash its American income tax bill, it had to turn to a Washington insider with extraordinary contacts to soothe a seething Congress.Dan Coats, then a former senator and ambassador to Germany, served as co-chairman of a team of lobbyists in 2007 who worked behind the scenes to successfully block Senate legislation that would have terminated a tax loophole worth hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cash flow to Cooper Industries.Now Mr. Coats, a Republican from Indiana, is about to make a striking transition. He is spinning the revolving door backward.
Whether Coats intends to return to corporate lobbying as part of his second retirement is unclear.