CLEVELAND — Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Rocky River shocked the political world on Thursday night when he announced he is not seeking reelection in 2022. Gonzalez was one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Since then, he’s faced personal security issues, been censured by the state’s Republican Party Central Committee and was facing a primary challenge from a Trump-backed candidate.
News 5 political reporter John Kosich talked to the congressman one-on-one Friday afternoon.
John Kosich: They always say the candidate is the one with his name on the ballot, but the family has to live with the results. What was it that led you to this decision?
Anthony Gonzalez: I think just being honest with ourselves as a family, in terms of what kind of lives we want for our kids, and for ourselves. What kind of dad do I want to be? What kind of husband? Being honest about what the demand of the jobs are. It’s been an incredible three years so far, to have an opportunity to represent your hometown and to fight for the country is a privilege and an honor unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, but when you look at what’s required, and where we want to go as a family, this is the right thing to do for us. It’s bittersweet, but at the end of the day, if I’m somebody who believes as a conservative that a family is the most important thing in society, I have to put my own family first. That’s ultimately what decision Elizabeth and I have made, and it will be sad not to serve, because we have the best constituents in the world, and the most kind and decent people on earth in Northeast Ohio, but it’s the decision we have to make.
Kosich: I was reading the New York Times article, and I understand it hasn’t been easy. What has life been like for your family since January?
Gonzalez: This is a decision, cumulatively, about what the job will look like for the next two, four, however many years you would do it. But things have changed since Jan. 6. There’s no doubt about that. The scrutiny has picked up, and we manage it fine. God willing, everything has been fine for us, but there are certain things that happen throughout the course of a day or week or month, where they’re just not normal, and, frankly, not what we want for our family. There have been some security concerns. They’re not usually from Northeast Ohio. They’re from people from all over who make different statements and say different things. It’s the sad reality of politics at this moment. It’s a decision you have to make, and be confident, if at the end of the day you’re putting your family ahead of everything else, that’s the right thing to do.
Kosich: You’ve been a constant target of the president (Trump) since the vote on impeachment. You were facing a primary challenge from one of his aides. Did that factor into your decision?
Gonzalez: No, honestly. There’s definitely a part of me that’s been disappointed with the direction of the party and has a difficult time getting excited about things that are either one – false, or two – the wrong thing for the country. Reasons one, two, three, four and five why we made this decision is for our family. It is a difficult job for families. I admire and respect anyone who does it. When we got into this, we didn’t have any kids, and Elizabeth wasn’t even pregnant yet. We had our son Alexander right before our first primary. Our daughter was born right as COVID was kicking off. Like most parents, when you see your kids for the first time, it changes your life in incredible ways. As our kids have gotten a little older, we’re looking at -- where are we going to send them to school, and what does that look like? How are we going to manage all this? A dad living in two cities and traveling 100 days a year. You just come to a conclusion that, ultimately, you only get one shot at raising your kids. The most important thing is that what’s happening at home is a happy, wonderful place for your family. We know that this is the right thing for us in that regard.
Kosich: In your tweet last night you talked about the toxic nature of the Republican Party right now. Is there room for an Anthony Gonzalez or Rob Portman in the Republican Party as you see it right now?
Gonzalez: I think there is, honestly. The truth is, if you look at the primary electorate, and how many people vote in a typical primary, you’re looking at around 10% of the entire district, which is different. There’s a big gap between who votes in Republican or Democratic primaries and where the entire district is. I think there’s room in the party and it’s going to require broadening that base and making sure that more people participate in these important primary races. Just talking to people on the ground, there’s incredible support for somebody like myself. Frankly, the hardest part of this is knowing there’s a lot of people disappointed today, me included, by the way. If I’m any kind of dad or husband, we have to do what’s right for the family, and that’s what we’ve decided to do.
Kosich: President Trump has said that he is considering possibly running again. If he does, where do you stand?
Gonzalez: I will never support him again. He’s forfeited that, ever since Jan. 6. For me that was a bright line in the sand. I’m very clear on where I stand, and I think that’s the right place for the country to be. Should he run, I will oppose him.
Kosich: I listened to your interview with the Dispatch (podcast), and you were very honest in your thought process. You were on the fence and maybe wouldn’t have voted to impeach. It was that gap between the storming and the sending in of the National Guards, where there was inaction, correct?
Gonzalez: Inaction, and from what we knew he was taking meetings at that time about instituting martial law and trying to rerun the election under military order. That’s the sort of thing that happens in Third World countries. That’s not the United States of America. That happens in places like Bangladesh. I want nothing to do with that. I think it’s wrong for the country. At that point, I felt like I could no longer trust him to be the commander in chief, and we needed to do that, so that there was a red line, if you will, such that, if he took that step, which would have been catastrophic for the country, if he took that step, there was an opportunity to put him in check via an impeachment.
Kosich: When you took that stand, did you think about your grandparents coming over from Cuba, standing up to Fidel Castro, facing death or imprisonment if they stayed, when you cast that vote?
Gonzalez: I did. I have picture of them in my office. Before I went down, I looked at those pictures. I thought about them. I thought about my kids. I thought about the country that I want to leave to them. My belief is, no matter how much material wealth you accumulate in this life, as an American the most important thing you give your kids is a country in better shape than the one you inherited. The country will only go where the people take it. When I was considering the impeachment vote, I knew it was a weighty vote, certainly, one that I was confident was the right decision, and I absolutely had my grandparents in mind, and their story, their escape from Cuba and knowing that happens when a country falls, how hard it is to get it back. It’s almost impossible to get it back.
Kosich: You’re only 37, as of tomorrow, what will it take to maybe one day get you back in the arena?
Gonzalez: It’s probably going to take an act of God. [LAUGHS] If I were to get back in it, my kids would have to be much older, and probably out of the house, and we’d have to be in a totally different place in our family life. This is a decision about raising the family my wife and I have always dreamed of, and the realities of politics today is that wasn’t possible if I ran for reelection. This is the choice we made. I don’t see us changing our mind anytime soon, but I’m also somebody who has said never say never, because you don’t know what’s going to happen with the country, or happen with the state, but my intention is to leave elected politics for as long as my kids are young and we still have the pleasure of having them in the house.