LAWRENCEVILLE Congressman John Linder is stepping down after nearly two decades in Washington.
Linder, R-Duluth, announced he would not seek re-election during a short speech at the grand opening of the Gwinnett GOP's new headquarters in Lawrenceville, causing a stir among the crowd of politicians and party faithful.
"I owe you my deepest sense of gratitude," Linder said, lauding the efforts of citizens to protest climate change and health care reform legislation.
"It's time," he said of retirement, noting that his name had been on a ballot every other year for the past 36 years.
He added that he would continue to travel and give speeches across the country promoting his FairTax plan, an idea to abolish the federal income tax and Internal Revenue Service and instead collect a national sales tax. He did not reveal any future political plans.
The news brought tears to some eyes and curses to some lips.
"Gwinnett and Georgia have lost a statesman and a friend," said Mike Royal, a player in the state and county GOP. "It's not easy living in Gwinnett County and being a congressman in Washington. The demands on your family and your life are enormous."
At the event, state Sen. Don Balfour, from Snellville, said he would consider a run in Linder's place,.
"I'm a little surprised," said Balfour, chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. "If he's not running, I'm obviously going to give it very serious consideration."
With just two months before a candidate qualifying period begins and five months until primary elections, Royal said Linder's retirement could cause a "mad scramble."
"I'm still trying to soak it in," said Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula. "He's done a great job. He's represented us well."
Prior to his election to Congress, Linder served seven terms in the Georgia General Assembly. The dentist was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, and was a leader during the Contract with America, where Republicans took control of Congress in 1994.
The current political climate in Washington, where Democrats gained a power in recent years, is not a factor in his decision, Linder said.
"In fact, I'm leaving when I think we'll take the majority back," he said.
In 2002, redistricting led to a battle with another incumbent Republican Bob Barr, well-known for leading the movement to impeach President Bill Clinton. Linder won that election handily.
He has faced Democratic challengers in recent years, but because his 7th District includes the more conservative parts of Gwinnett County, along with all of Barrow and Walton counties and parts of Newton and Forsyth, there is expected to be a lot of interest among the GOP.
With a state House race already emerging for Snellville, Balfour's decision on a congressional race could create a Senate race for the city as well.
Linder is also a best-selling author, along with radio personality Neal Boortz. His FairTax Book held the No. 1 spot on the New York Times Best Seller list for two weeks in 2005 and remained in the top 10 for two months.