WASHINGTON – An early afternoon announcement by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell turned into the juiciest gossip on Capitol Hill by the end of the day Wednesday.
Campbell's colleagues in the capital were surprised by his announcement that he would not be running for re-election in November but wished the senator a quick recovery in his battle against prostate cancer.
“I was shocked and saddened to receive word that Senator Campbell would not seek re-election,” said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye,D- Hawaii,through a spokesman. “Although he is a member of the Republican Party,Ben and I worked closely as a team on matters important to Indian Country.”
Campbell and Inouye,the chair and ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,spent the morning at a hearing discussing the completion of the National Museum of the American Indian.
As he presided over the meeting,Campbell posed questions about the final cost of the museum and the repatriation of sacred Indian artifacts without any indication that he would soon be making one of the biggest moves of his career.
“Senator Campbell's retirement is a great loss to the Senate,the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,and Indian Country,” Inouye said. “I wish him well and pray that his health problem will soon be solved.”
As a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe,Campbell is the only American Indian in the Senate. He worked for years to make sure the NMAI would represent American Indians accurately and fairly.
“The Senate will miss his leadership on Native American and criminal justice issues,” said Sen. Wayne Allard,R-Colo,in a statement. “Colorado and the nation are going to lose a great champion in the U.S. Senate.”
Allard and Campbell,who started his political career as a Democrat,have worked together for six years as fellow Republicans and Colorado Senators. Now,with a spot up for grabs,the Senate race is sure to get exciting. Several Colorado Democrats who had said they would not challenge Campbell may now reconsider their decisions.
“I am deeply disappointed in Ben's decision,but understand his desire to return to Colorado after 12 highly successful years in the U.S. Senate,” Allard said.
Campbell's colleagues from the House of Representatives also praised him.
“I know this must have been a tough decision for Ben and his family,but I know it is one he made after careful consideration,” said Rep. Mark Udall,D-Colo. “We have been friends since I came to Congress in 1999 and have worked together on a number of projects for the people of the State of Colorado.”
Recently,Campbell has come under close scrutiny for allegations that one staff member received kickbacks from another. Campbell said he was unaware of any such arrangement and asked for an ethics investigation. However,he did not mention this as a reason for his decision.
“I look forward to leaving Washington,permanently,and heading back to home to spend the next stage of my life enjoying the company of my grandkids,” Campbell said in a written statement.
By 4:30 p.m.,Campbell's Washington office was a chaotic scene as well-dressed men sat waiting for word and harried reporters popped in and out hoping for a minute with the senator.
Office aides answered phones just long enough to put the callers on hold.
Although not allowed to make an official comment on the senator's decision,Katherine Burnett,staff assistant,did say,“It's just been one of those days.”