(WASHINGTON POST) Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is leaving Congress in January to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
DeMint, a staunch conservative who often clashes with party leadership, was reelected to a second term in 2010. He will depart before the new Congress is sworn in next month. “I’ve decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas,” DeMint said in a statement. “My constituents know that being a Senator was never going to be my career.”
The senator, a vocal advocate for term limits, had already pledged not to seek a third term.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will appoint DeMint’s successor, who will serve until a 2014 special election. That means two Senate races in the Palmetto State that year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) — targeted by many of the conservatives who love DeMint — is up for reelection.
Before entering politics, DeMint worked in market research, and he told the Journal that he’s excited about taking Heritage Foundation research and working to “translate those policy papers into real-life demonstrations of things that work.”
Heritage Chairman of the Board Thomas A. Saunders, in a statement, praised DeMint’s “passion for rigorous research, his dedication to the principles of our nation’s founding, and his ability to translate policy ideas into action.”
DeMint will take over from Ed Fuelner, who helped found the Heritage Foundation in 1973 and has been its president since 1977.
In 2010, Fuelner earned a total compensation (including bonuses and incentives) of $1,098,612. His base salary was $477,097. The annual salary for a senator: $174,000.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the Board’s selection,” said Feulner in a statement. “Jim DeMint understands that conservative principles and values advance the interests of all Americans—regardless of age, gender, wealth or race.”
The current president will stay on as as chancellor of the foundation and chairman of Heritage’s Asian Studies Center.
DeMint’s political allies were quick to congratulate the senator.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said it was “disappointing” to lose a fellow conservative in Congress, but “South Carolina’s loss is the country’s gain.”
“Senator DeMint has done more to advance the cause of freedom and liberty in Congress than anyone else since his election,” said Chris Chocola, president of the anti-tax Club for Growth, in a statement. “We wish him nothing but the best in his new role at Heritage.”
Seen headed to his office near the Senate chamber, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to questions about DeMint, keeping to his tradition of ignoring reporter questions while walking the halls.
McConnell’s deputy, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also appeared caught off-guard by the announcement. “I just heard about it,” he told reporters outside his office.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.