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REPLACING TOM DELAY by Tara Ross Print E-mail
by    Mon, Jan 16, 2006, 02:38 PM

Tom Delay
"Did we [Republicans] change Washington or did Washington change us?"

The question came from Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) this weekend, as he was interviewed by news anchor Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Wallace was interviewing each of the potential replacements for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

Rep. John Shadegg
Shadegg’s question is a good one. He may be the only candidate in the race for Majority Leader who has not only the courage, but also the desire, to tackle the issue seriously.

Many Dallasites probably have not heard of Shadegg, a congressman from Arizona’s 3rd congressional district. Shadegg was first elected during the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, and he is well known among fiscal conservatives for his commitment to restrained spending, low tax, and small government principles. Although many in Washington have since lost their stomach for the revolutionary principles espoused in the Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America, Shadegg never did. Indeed, from 2000 to 2002, he served as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of the House’s most conservative Republican congressmen.

But why would a relatively low-profile congressman from Arizona suddenly find himself thrust into the race for House Majority Leader?

Simple. Many perceive that the other contenders in the contest, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), will not offer the Republican Party the fresh start that it needs in the face of recent bribery and lobbying scandals.

The election of Roy Blunt as Majority Leader would not—could not—be a true departure from DeLay’s leadership of the House. To the contrary, Blunt is a protégé of DeLay. He was appointed to the position of chief deputy whip, then Majority Whip, at the urging of DeLay. He achieved the former in 1999, despite the fact that other congressmen then had more seniority and more experience. A May 2005 Washington Post article suggests that Blunt’s quick ascent in the chain of Republican leadership was the result of his ability to reach out to D.C. area lobbyists.

Further confirmation of Blunt’s close association with the tactics of the DeLay era was heard last September. When Blunt was chosen to serve as acting House Majority Leader pending resolution of DeLay’s legal woes, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) described the selection process as "very similar to a battlefield situation where a leader has been wounded and taken out of battle." The party, Rohrabacher concluded, decided to "stick with the chain of command." What makes some Republicans think that Blunt can now abandon the status quo and overcome recent Republican shortcomings?

He is unlikely to do so.

Similarly, John Boehner is an establishment candidate who will be unable to give Republicans the fresh start that they need. Boehner currently serves alongside Blunt as assistant Majority Whip. Boehner, too, finds himself mired in relationships with lobbyists. Consider an action that he took in 1995. As the House debated the possibility of ending subsidies to the tobacco industry, Boehner distributed checks from tobacco lobbyists to congressmen on the House floor. Boehner has subsequently labeled this action "a mistake," but shouldn’t we be disturbed that he considered such an act acceptable in the first place?

Additionally, Boehner takes more privately financed trips than most federal legislators. In the past five years, Forbes reports, Boehner has traveled on 31 trips financed by special interest groups. His wife accompanied him on 22 of these trips. Moreover, Boehner’s campaign coffers have benefited from the generous contributions of student-loan companies, such as Sallie Mae. Some allege that Boehner has returned the favor by protecting these lenders from the ramifications of proposed spending cuts. Boehner’s office denies any relation between contributions and legislative action.

Perhaps the two are unrelated. But, if so, why did Boehner tell an annual meeting of the Consumer Bankers Association, "Know that I have all of you in my trusted hands. I’ve got enough rabbits up my sleeve"?

The differences among Blunt, Boehner, and Shadegg are stark, indeed. Blunt and Boehner have been intimately involved in recent failures of congressional Republicans: The massive new prescription drug entitlement, out-of-control spending and earmarks, and close ties with ethically challenged lobbyists such as Jack Abramoff. By contrast, Shadegg’s connections to lobbyists are limited, and he was one of a handful of Republicans to vote against the massive prescription drug entitlement. Impressively, he refused to earmark funds for his district in last year’s federal highway appropriations bill.

Blunt, Boehner, and Shadegg each claim to recognize the need for reform in the House, but Shadegg is the one offering specific and numerous proposals to tighten lobbying rules, limit earmark spending, and change House procedures that have facilitated an out-of-control budget process. Most importantly, he is the one who practices what he preaches about spending restraint.

At least one Dallas-area congressman, Jeb Hensarling, has already endorsed Shadegg for Majority Leader. Hensarling is to be applauded for his initiative and bravery in endorsing Shadegg early, despite (I would imagine) much pressure from House leadership to stay with the status quo.

We should encourage our other area representatives to follow in Hensarling’s footsteps. The Republican Party will be put on the road to recovery if Shadegg is given the opportunity to serve as House Majority Leader.

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