WASHINGTON -- What will Barney Frank do now?
Now that the blunt-spoken Democrat from Massachusetts is calling it quits after 30 years in Congress, his biggest decision will be what to do next.
At a Monday news conference announcing his decision to step down rather than face a tough re-election fight in a redrawn district, Rep. Frank (D-Mass.) said he planned to write, teach and lecture. "I will neither be a lobbyist nor a historian,” Frank said, in a trademark dig, this time at GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
While gleeful conservatives wasted no time speculating that the former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and bank-reform champion would go over to the other side -- despite evidence that he's no fan of Capitol Hill veterans-turned-lobbyists -- fans of Frank had other ideas for one of the first openly-gay members of Congress.
And never mind that Frank's famously-bristly, take-no-prisoners style is hardly suited to the smooth-talking ways of K Street.
Still, what about president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocacy group? Long-time HRC President Joe Solmonese plans to step down in March 2012 and the group last week launched a search for his successor.
"If he would do it, it would be his for the asking," said veteran gay rights activist Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters.
A gay-rights advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Frank would be "totally plausible" as head of the HRC lobbying group and said its board would "love nothing more." But he added that when he raised the idea to several other activists, they "literally thought it was a joke," he said in an email Monday. "After these five movement insider-types got passed the initial shock of laughter, every single one of them went straight to the continuously promised, never delivered vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that Chairman Frank allowed the clock to run out on."
Robin McGehee, co-founder of the gay rights group Get Equal, also minced no words about the prospect of the congressman lobbying full-time for her cause.
"Representative Frank should be celebrated for his decades of public service, but must also be held accountable for the decades that he has let an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act languish in Congress," McGehee said. "I don't know what his next steps will entail, but the LGBT movement is ripe for new leadership, new energy and new blood."
When asked about the chances of Frank taking over as HRC's president, the group's spokesman Paul Guequierre emailed, "Not to the knowledge of anyone at HRC."
Another gay-rights activist speaking on background doubted Frank would want "the headaches and community drama or the travel schedule" of the job, adding, "but wouldn't that be a game-changer?"
Socarides doubts Frank has his eye on the HRC job, even if he did challenge Gingrich to a debate over the Defense of Marriage Act.
"He is more likely to end up in an Obama second term cabinet," Socarides said. "Treasury is the most obvious but he could do any number of them -- housing, transportation, health and human services, to name a few."