Rep. Dan Lungren announced what surely is the end of his 34 years on the public stage with a classy concession in which he thanked his family and staff, and congratulated Ami Bera, the Democrat who defeated him.
The Bee's editorial board often disagreed with Lungren on policy issues. Too many of his stands were too conservative. But no one could doubt his sincerity or his honesty.
Clearly, he did not enter public service to line his pockets. His annual financial disclosure statements consistently showed he was one of the least affluent members of Congress. He traveled less at lobbyists' expense than many, and didn't soak up speaking fees.
Importantly, he remained accessible to constituents and was willing to defend his stands in public settings, including with this newspaper, unlike some self-important and thin-skinned members of the region's delegation who can't be bothered to return a phone call.
Lungren lost for many reasons, not the least of which was that Speaker John Boehner, bowing to tea party conservatives, failed to help Lungren deliver authorization to spend $1.4 billion to upgrade Sacramento River levees for the storm that surely will come one year.
Lungren had considered challenging Rep. Tom McClintock, the career politician who was elected in a new district that includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite many miles from his Elk Grove home. People who consider themselves to be conservative are attracted to McClintock's rigid politics. Instead, Lungren chose to run in a Democratic-leaning district that includes his residence in Gold River, which reflects a measure of honesty.
In conceding defeat on Friday, Lungren made no excuses. He did not, for example, cite the $4.8 million spent to unseat him by outside groups, the second largest sum spent to beat any Republican in the country. Nor did he cite any of the cheap shots during the campaign.
Instead, he congratulated Bera. "It is my hope," Lungren said, "that Dr. Bera approaches Congress, as have I, with a humble heart, respect for the institution and a desire to perform his duties in the best interest of the people he represents and the country."
Bera, by contrast, emailed a fund-raising pitch earlier last week that included an MSNBC clip in which Rachel Maddow described the "awkward" situation in which Lungren, chairman of the House administration committee, was responsible for orientation of new members including Bera. Bera's fundraising appeal was an in-your-face equivalent of spiking the ball, unbecoming a member of Congress.
Lungren understands winning and losing, having won a congressional seat at 31 by defeating a Democrat in 1978, rising to become California attorney general and losing the 1998 race for governor. He was an honorable public servant, who understood that holding elective office is a privilege, not a right.