TUCSON - Members of the U.S. House will be sworn in Tuesday as the 111th Congress convenes, but Rep. Rick Renzi won't be among them.
The Arizona Republican has ended a three-term career beneath the same cloud of suspicion that surrounded him during much of his last year in office, under federal indictment and facing a criminal trial in March.
Renzi chose not to seek re-election but also refused to resign, saying he would be proven innocent, and in November Arizona's 1st District voters chose Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff to replace him. On Monday, a day before the swearing-in ceremonies, Kirkpatrick's Washington staff answered the phones that had been Renzi's.
Renzi first won the seat in 2002, when he emerged from a large pack of contenders seeking what was then a newly created district that took in large swaths of rural Arizona. He easily won re-election twice, even as rumors began to swirl that he was being investigated by the federal government.
"Certainly his tenure as a representative will be defined now by the criminal investigations, and we will see where that goes," said Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist.
But Renzi deserves credit for a number of accomplishments in representing the 58,608-square mile district, which encompasses eight of the state's 15 counties, according to Solop and retired congressman Jim Kolbe of Tucson.
"His accomplishments were to really tie together a very diverse district," said Kolbe, who stepped down two years ago after 11 terms in the House representing southern Arizona.
"What he was known for throughout the district is bringing federal dollars for programs such as education, housing and transportation," added Solop.
Still, Solop noted that from late February 2008 on, though the 50-year-old Renzi technically remained a congressman, his district effectively was unrepresented.
Over the last three years, Renzi's effectiveness as a legislator declined dramatically, according to Congress.org, a public-service Web site that said Renzi's power ranking among fellow congressmen plunged from 84th in 2005 to 435th, or least influential in the House, during 2008.
Once Renzi, a lawyer and businessman, was named in a 35-count indictment, replaced during the fall by a 44-count indictment, he lost his committee assignments and spent most of his time preoccupied with efforts to prepare to defend himself against criminal charges including extortion, conspiracy, racketeering, insurance fraud, wire fraud and money-laundering.
Renzi is accused of engineering a swap of federally owned mining land for his benefit and that of a former business partner, and of misappropriating insurance premiums from his company's clients to help finance his first congressional campaign.
He and three co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Renzi declined to comment on Monday about his congressional career, Washington attorney Kelly Kramer said. Renzi's phone number is unpublished, and attempts to reach him directly were unsuccessful.
"Really it was bringing home the federal dollars that was a huge legacy of Rick Renzi," said Solop.
He noted that before Renzi was elected, though the district still covered northern Arizona and some Phoenix suburbs, "the money wasn't coming into the rural communities."
Among funds that Renzi also secured was a $5.5 million housing grant a year ago for the Navajo Nation and mass transit money for Coconino County's Mountain Lion Transit bus system.
"Part of it was that the Bush administration campaigned for him, raised money for him and wanted him to hold that seat. So he was able to get influence within the government quite rapidly," Solop said.
"He came on quite strong, and certainly this last year we could see over time he became more distant, less approachable. And this last term, he was not effective whatsoever."
Kolbe said it was hard to imagine a district in the country as varied, ranging from Flagstaff to the mining areas of Greenlee County to cotton farmers around Casa Grande to the Navajo Nation.
"He did a very good job of tying it together," Kolbe said. "He was a very hard worker in getting around the district."
One of Renzi's legacies, Kolbe said, was "proving that you can really represent a district like that even though it's a very difficult task."