House Leadership Race: Commitment Counts

Posted: Feb 13, 2006 4:58 PM

The House of Representatives is involved in a reasserted Leadership Election due to the resignation of Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) as Majority Leader. DeLay, who very seldom has yielded to political pressure, this time, threw in the towel. DeLay was pressured by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and other Republicans. The timing may prove very costly to DeLay personally. The Supreme Court of Texas was poised to hear the case for immediate dismissal of the charges against DeLay upon the grounds that a decision had to be made one way or the other as to who leads the Congress.

As soon as DeLay announced he would not seek to return to the Majority Leader’s position, the Court decided that it would not accelerate its proceedings. Political observers of all stripes in Texas believe that DeLay ultimately will win that case. But now that the litigation will drag on into the spring or even later, Delay’s legal bills are piling up. He must raise millions to defend himself, which just doesn’t seem fair.

So there is an election scheduled February 2nd. The three contestants are Acting Majority Leader and elected Majority Whip Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO), Representative John A. Boehner (R-OH) and Representative John B. Shadegg (R-AZ).

I am personally supporting Blunt. That comes as a great shock to many of my conservative colleagues. They assumed, since I had helped organize the Republican Study Committee (RSC) with Edwin J. Feulner in 1973 that I would support Shadegg, who was RSC Chairman rather recently. Some even thought I would support Boehner inasmuch as he supposedly would represent change from the DeLay regime, from which everyone and his mother is trying to run, and he is a fervent advocate of school vouchers, a favorite topic of mine.

Let me tell you why I am supporting Blunt. I know all three Members. It is a tribute to how far conservatives have come in Republican politics that all three candidates are among the most conservative House Members. So this is not a question of philosophy.

First, we must acknowledge that great things have been accomplished by Republicans in the House since DeLay has been Majority Leader and Blunt has been Majority Whip. You don’t know about these great things? That is because the Senate has refused to concur in most of them and because the media, new and old, has not reported the story. Yes, I understand the need for a different image on account of the Abramoff Scandal. So far as I know, Blunt is no more involved in that scandal then 300 other House and Senate Members who received money from Abramoff or his clients. I don’t think that electing any of the three would be a radical change from the past.

I don’t merely look at the media concoction of what this race means. I try to look at the whole picture. Blunt is, by far, the most able of the three. Although Republicans control the House it is only by 16 seats. There are always Republican defectors for one reason or the other. I look at who will be able to pull over some Democratic votes to help conservatives pass legislation.

On that score Blunt wins hands down. Neither Boehner nor Shadegg has any relationship with the 20 or so Democrats who sometimes can be coaxed into voting with the GOP Leadership. DeLay, when he was Majority Whip, developed that relationship in a remarkable way. Blunt has cultivated the relationship where DeLay left off. Neither Boehner nor Shadegg has any similar relationship with Members of the other party. You can argue that they could learn. Of course. But now, with only eight months remaining for legislative activity, and with the campaign season to be in full swing from Labor Day on, there is no time for on-the-job training.

Secondly, of the three contenders Blunt is, in my view, most deeply committed to the social issues. Don’t get me wrong. All three will vote correctly. It is a question of who would give values issues priority when tough choices must be made.

Then there is the media factor. Blunt, in my view, presents a realistic view of what is going on to the media. He is a non-threatening voice of reason. The other two candidates are what are known in television as “hot.” That meaning is not the same as “hot” on the street. It has to do with perception. Boehner has had experience dealing with media so while he comes across on the tube as an aggressive personality even though he isn’t, he could perhaps make the adjustment for the Majority Leader’s job. Shadegg has not played in prime time. It is only since Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) has become Chairman that the Republican Study Conference (RSC) has become a real player. Pence has had to learn to deal with the national media. When Shadegg was RSC Chairman he was not as much involved with national media. Blunt is not mistake prone. We don’t know about the other two. One misstatement and it can require years and years to live it down. I know whereof I speak. I made a statement in 1977 about who the New Right was compared to previous conservatives. I still am living down that statement more than a quarter century later.

Blunt were elected Majority Leader (as of this writing he claims to have the votes but it remains to be seen if that factors in those who lie, that is, commit to his face and secretly vote otherwise), there will be a race for Majority Whip. It could be that all positions will be up for grabs if Representative Daniel E. (“Dan”) Lungren (R-CA) and others have their way. They are trying to secure 50 votes to put all positions except Speaker up for election. Unless Lungren and friends succeed Blunt would continue as Majority Whip were one of the other candidates to be elected Majority Leader. It is not likely that he would stay in that post if Boehner were elected, in my opinion. It is truly an oil and water situation.

Anyway, four candidates are looking at the Whip’s Race if there is one. Current Acting Majority Whip, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), is the front runner. He claims he has 150 votes committed to him. Other Members dispute that. Be that as it may, I have endorsed Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS). He is a committed and constructively aggressive conservative. While Cantor has done an excellent job in counting votes, Tiahrt’s work on economic issues and his deep commitment to religious values makes him the better choice, in my opinion.

I mentioned the false statement factor. I have been involved in at least 26 contests for various House and Senate leadership posts since Senator Gordon L. Allott (R-CO) taught me how to count votes in 1968. In the Allott vs. Senator Robert P. (“Bob”) Griffin (R-MI) contest, Allott met with every GOP Senator except one, Strom Thurmond (R-SC). I had that privilege and secured his vote.

Once a Senator had looked Allott in the eye and told him he would vote for him we checked that statement three different ways. First, we had another Senator who supported Allott talk with the Senator whom Allott had eyeballed. If he gave the same answer to one of Allott’s lieutenants, fine. If he would not tell that colleague for whom he would vote we counted him as a no. Likewise, we consulted a party official and a businessman from the Senator’s state with whom Allott had spoken personally. If the answer from the party official and the businessman was the same as the answer from the Senator in question, then fine. If these state residents got a non-committal reply from the Senator in question, we counted that Senator as a no.

The Senators, whose votes we counted as no despite their affirmative, face-to-face discussions with Allott, had not been genuine with Allott. Only one Senator looked Allott in the eye and said he absolutely supported him and that Allott could count on his vote but voted for Griffin. We knew who he was because of the replies he had given to a colleague and to the folks from back home.

When Richard B. (“Dick”) Cheney, newly elected Minority Whip, was tapped to be President George Herbert Walker Bush’s Secretary of Defense Newt Gingrich declared for Whip. His opponent was Illinois Congressman Edward R. (“Ed”) Madigan. (Madigan’s campaign manager, by the way, was one Tom DeLay). I helped Gingrich in that race, at his request. On the eve of the vote, Gingrich called me and said that it was a lock and that he had a six-vote margin. In fact, Gingrich won by two votes.

In every contest in which I have been involved, House or Senate, there was the lie factor. As my colleague Bill Lind said “Why not? They lie to the public. It stands to reason they would lie to each other.” He is correct. And the number of dishonorable characters has increased in every election in which I have participated. A reflection of our society, no doubt.

In any case, my advice to all candidates in this and other races, if there are such, is factor in for lying. It is just the way things are.