Paul  Weyrich

The year was 1973. Republicans had ushered in a large class of some 42 new Members in the House of Representatives due to gains in the 1972 elections. They were nowhere near controlling the House but they suddenly had become more relevant. Gerald R. Ford, Jr. (R-MI) was Minority Leader. He was a nice fellow but conservatives among House Republicans regarded him as too willing to compromise with liberals in both parties.

Edwin J. Feulner, Jr. was Chief of Staff to Representative Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.). I was on the staff of Senator Carl T. Curtis (R-NE). I had discussed with Feulner and Crane the operations of the Democratic Study Group (DSG), the caucus of Democratic liberals which continually pulled their party to the left. I mentioned to Ed and Phil that Representative Floyd D. Spence (R-SC), who first was elected in 1970, had tried unsuccessfully to form a counterpart to the DSG.

Feulner and Crane suggested that we needed a more senior Member who could attract Members to a meeting. They suggested we confer with Representative Edward J. Derwinski (R-Ill), first elected in 1958 but who maintained his conservative principles.

We met with Derwinski, who agreed to attempt to persuade Members to form a counterpart to the DSG. Derwinski asked how the DSG funded its considerable staff. We pointed out that each Member contributed a portion of his own staff allowance. The money was pooled, the DSG’s having had what was called “shared staff.”

Derwinski, ever the practical fellow, asked what our relations were with the Members just elected. We said we knew a number of them. Trent Lott (R-MS), for example, had been part of a Senate/House staff group which met each month beginning in the 1960s as I had. I had also been part of that group. Lott had been a Democrat working for a Democratic Chairman, William M. Colmer. In early 1972 he had switched parties and had been elected as a conservative Republican, a harbinger of the future in the South. John B. Conlan (R-AZ) I had met through evangelical religious groups, Robert P. Hanrahan (R-IL) was introduced to me by Illinois conservatives and so on. Derwinski instructed us to sell the concept of shared staff to each new Member and to get them to agree to volunteer a portion of their staff allowance for the good of the cause. Derwinski chaired the organizational meeting, which was again held in the office of Floyd Spence. There was an overflow crowd. Not only did many freshmen show up but some older Members, such as John H. Rousselot and Claire W. Burgener (R-CA), as well. The meeting could not have been more productive.

Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
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