Bill Steigerwald

Florida Republican Adam H. Putnam recently found himself prominently featured in The New York Times, where on March 26 he was described as "the unlikely mouthpiece for the beleaguered minority in the House." Putnam, at 32 one of the country's youngest congressmen, is chairman of the Republican Conference, which is the GOP's No. 3 top job in the House. I talked to the four-term social and fiscal conservative about his job, his politics and the troubled state of his party by phone Tuesday from Washington:

Q: Does it scare you -- or should it scare conservatives -- that The New York Times has declared you a "fresh face" who's going to be the savior of the fallen GOP?
A: Well, for my whole career I have dealt with the southern edition of The New York Times, since my local paper is a New York Times regional paper. But the bottom line is, we've got a deep bench, a lot of energy, a lot of fresh faces in our House Republican Conference, and I'm glad that even The New York Times could notice that.

Q: Most people don't know what it means to be chairman of the Republican Conference. What is your job?
A: The job is to help craft and communicate the vision that House Republicans have for the direction this country should be going. It's considered the third-ranking position in the Republican Party. It's a position John Boehner, J.C. Watts held, Dick Armey held.

Q: What kind of Republican are you?
A: I'm a conservative Republican.

Q: In the Reagan mold, the Goldwater mold, the Newt Gingrich mold?
A: I don't get too spun up on that. I give Ronald Reagan a lot of credit for helping to mold my views as a child: a very clear sense of right and wrong, America's destiny in this world anchored in individual freedom, the entrepreneur and the need to project strength around the world. I guess the bottom line is I consider myself to be socially and fiscally conservative.

Q: Is your youth an asset or a liability when it comes to this new job?
A: I certainly don't think it's been a liability. I was very fortunate to earn the trust and support of my colleagues who elected me conference chair, and before that had elected me policy chair when we were in the majority. I think it's important that we communicate a fresh, innovative, visionary approach to public policy. We lost the youth vote, we lost the independent vote in the last election, and I think we need to really reach down into our tool kit and find out why Middle America stopped listening to the Republican Party.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..