Mary Katharine Ham

(Note: Bloggers talk to California's Dan Lungren (3rd) about his run for House Republican Conference Chairman. He serves as the Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommitte on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Cybersecurity.)

Congressman Lungren: Well, I appreciate the chance to speak with you. I’m one of the latest to enter our race chairman of the conference, but I did so because I think that we need a real shake up; we need to have a conference that knows how to take us from minority to majority status, which is a different set of circumstances we’ve been under the past twelve years. We need a conference that pays more attention to the membership than to the leadership. We need a conference that is not afraid of ideas but is the, perhaps, an incubator of ideas. I think it’s relatively simple. We have lost our way, and we forgot what brought us here in the first place. It almost seems as though, in some circumstances, we have made an effort to be incumbents rather than conservatives. As a result of that, we lost the majority status.

I’m not one that believes we have to change what our party stands for. We need to reaffirm that and find better ways to articulate that. When I was in Congress before, my first ten year stint in Congress, we actually were concerned about spending. When I came back, the biggest change I can show you is what occurred in the first spring when I was back, a year and a half ago, when all of the sudden I saw the halls of the office building absolutely lined with literally hundreds of people coming into office, after office, after office. What it was was the effort to gain earmarks back in the home district. When I was in here before, it was a question of people coming back with a faint hope that they might get something knowing that it was the exception rather than the rule. When I got back here and all of the sudden it was no long the exception, it was the rule, it was the expectation. The folks that came back from my area, about 400 strong representing various different interest in my district were shocked when I suggested to them that maybe Congress had an obligation to restrain spending rather than continue spending. In the second year I found out that there was an impact in our discussions with them in that far fewer asked for funds, and any funds that they asked for had a federal [not audible]. There were a lot fewer requests for specific earmarks. Somehow, our leadership had a tin ear to the fact that most of us were hearing this from across the country. I always thought that if the conference acted as it should, the leadership would have picked up on the fact that this was a true concern of our base, and that we would’ve done something about it rather than hearing, frankly from one of our leaders Tom DeLay, that we had cut as much as we could possibly cut, and the American people should understand that and frankly give us thanks.

So my idea is that if people are satisfied with the way the conference has gone, if they are satisfied with the way we have gone, they ought not to vote for me. If they believe that we need some change, and if they believe that leadership, in a real way – not in an offensive way but a real way – continually challenged by the ideas of the rank and file, then they ought to consider my chairmanship. If they want to make sure that we actually do more than just say no, that we actually press the offensive, that we actually have ideas that we put up against the Democrats and challenge them time and time again from now until the next election, then they ought to consider my chairmanship. If they don’t want to do that, then frankly they ought not consider what I’m trying to do.

Question: For those of us who are bloggers, we like what we’re hearing and assuming we want to help you or other reformers, what should we be doing? I mean other than what we’re doing which is post blogs posts and say “You should like this guy”, but you know, a lot of people can like you and that may or may not change what happens in the House. What should we be doing?

Congressman Lungren: Well you ought to issues a challenge to the people who are out there in the blogging community that the Republicans ought not to treat this as business as usual. Frankly, the fact that we’re having the vote this week is an indication of business as usual. The concession was that they gave us two extra days. The vote was supposed to take place on Wednesday so they gave us until Friday and people are supposed to be satisfied with that. This is among the most important decisions we’re going to make: Who’s going to be our leader? Have we vented our leadership properly? Have we asked him the tough questions? We’re not going to have an excuse, as some tried to give with the Foley scandal that we didn’t know, we didn’t ask; we’re not going to have an excuse that we didn’t examine those who were in our leadership, and we’re not going to be able to go to our base and say, “You know, the reason we didn’t have the proper agenda is that we didn’t really put our leadership to the test at the time we made the decision.”

The only good thing out of this is that Thursday we’re going to have an opportunity for presentation. They’re allowing those of us in our contest ten minutes. Now ten minutes is better than two and it’s better than nothing. But how often would you interview someone for ten minutes and give them the top job? I just think one of the challenges out there ought to be, if the Republicans in the Congress understand what the voters just told them and if they understand the challenge of whether or not we’re going to be a two year minority or a generational minority, perhaps we ought to spend the time, as much time as we would in picking our offices. You’re given twenty minutes to pick your office in this place, and we’re going to give ten minutes for our position, five minutes for some of the smaller positions, I believe all the way up to fifteen minutes for the top position. Now, you can either use that time speaking, asking questions, or a combination of both. My suggestion is we ought to postpone this until December; we ought to have a retreat or a closed session of members of Congress of the Republican conference in which we basically talk what our future is. I would even think that it might even make sense for some of us to solicit advice from some of our constituencies out there that are part of our core base.


Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of HotAir.com, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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