CLEVELAND — U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Rocky River is one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Facing backlash from within his party since that vote, Gonzalez announced Thursday he won't seek re-election to the 16th Congressional District, which includes parts of several Northeast Ohio counties.
Elected in 2018, the 36-year-old former Ohio State and NFL football player is considered a moderate within the Republican Party, but he told 3News' Mark Naymik that the party's current political culture and a messy party primary fight ahead is not worth the sacrifice he already makes being away from his family.
"Admittedly, reasons one, two, three and four and five why I'm doing this is to take care of the family and to live the family life that Elizabeth and I have always dreamed of," Gonzalez said. "But the truth is, the environment is very toxic and especially the dynamics inside our own party, which have sort of stopped making sense to me in a lot of ways."
Watch the full interview in the player below:
He said the decision to step away is "bittersweet," but added, "Our politics [have] gotten so polluted that that environment for me, personally, it's just not one that I'm willing to be a part of going forward after serving out my term."
Gonzalez would have faced former White House aide Max Miller, the grand grandson of Cleveland developer Sam Miller. He has not run for elected office before but has the backing of Trump and the conservative wing of the party, and they are the ones who typically turn out in primaries.
The Strongsville GOP led a vocal effort to pressure Gonzalez to step down after the impeachment vote, claiming he "betrayed" constituents in the southwest suburb and throughout the district. Miller, too, has accused Gonzalez of "betraying" constituents and described the pro-Trump GOP movement as forcing Gonzalez into retirement.
Gonzalez insists he could still beat Miller in the primary, but acknowledged doing so would have been difficult. He said Miller "hasn’t lived in the district long enough to understand it very well."
As for his impeachment vote, Gonzalez said he has no regrets because it was the right decision for the country.
"I believe the majority of constituents actually believe that," he said. "You have to be willing to take tough votes that might ultimately end up with some challenges. … You have to be willing to lose it, and you can't put your own incumbency ahead of what's right for the country or your constituents, and I've always tried to live that way. I've always tried to govern that way, and I'm proud of the service. I'm proud of the decisions we've made. I haven't gotten everything perfect. Nobody does."
Asked if there is room for his brand of politics within the GOP, Gonzalez said yes, but added more GOP voters need to show up in the primaries to better shape which candidates get to the general election.
"How do we change the dynamics where more people are voting the primaries?" he pondered. "When I talk to people, the vast majority really are disgusted with both parties, and they want to see something that they can latch onto."
Gonzalez hopes the GOP will continue working on two of his priorities: Improving services for veterans and focusing on China, which he sees as the greatest threat to the U.S.
"I've always believed the U.S. is in an ideological and existential battle with China," he stated.
Gonzalez plans to stay on the political sidelines for now, but did not rule out seeking office again.
"Once you have the opportunity and the privilege to serve, I think the bug never quite leaves you," he said. "So while I don't see myself pursuing elected office anytime soon, maybe when the kids are grown and out of the house, but I always stay engaged."