There were few surprises last week in the selection of new committee chairmen in the Republican Congress. As expected, the Senate strictly followed the generations-old tradition of seniority. It was more complex in the House, however, where—under a system crafted by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1994—the 39-member Republican Steering Committee, composed of members of the GOP leadership, four important committee chairmen and representatives from 12 regions of the country, met behind closed doors, heard presentations from candidates for chairmanships and then voted. In more situations than not, seniority went out the window. Most dramatically, the committee chose staunch conservative Rep. Richard Pombo (R.-Calif.) as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Pombo, who has served five terms, was eighth in seniority on the committee and was chosen over three competitors with longer tenure. (The most senior Republican on the committee, New Jersey’s moderate James Saxton, was a non-Westerner friendly with environmental groups who abandoned his candidacy on the eve of the Steering Committee meeting. House sources told HUMAN EVENTS Saxton cut a deal with the leadership that made him chairman of a new Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats.) Although the final vote remained confidential, sources say Pombo and fellow conservative Rep. Jimmy Duncan (Tenn.) were tied until Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who has five votes, cast the deciding ballot. Both Pombo and Duncan have strong records of supporting property rights and opposing excesses of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. “But someone from Tennessee was just not going to defeat a Californian,” Duncan spokesman Rob Haralson told me. There are five Californians on the Steering Committee. The other hard-fought contest, this one between former National Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) and Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (Calif.) for the chairmanship of the Government Reform Committee, never came to a vote. Instead, Cox—the favorite of most conservative members who spoke to us—was given the chairmanship of the new, high-profile Select Homeland Security Committee and permitted to retain his Policy Committee chairmanship and his membership on the Energy and Commerce Committee, while Davis will head up Government Reform. Even though they went along with this arrangement, many conservatives remain nervous that Davis will use the chairmanship to funnel additional pay and benefits to the federal government employees who make up much of his constituency. But the same conservatives also felt the Steering Committee had to reward Davis in some way for his role as campaign manager in a year the GOP gained seats in the House. As expected, 11-termer Duncan Hunter (Calif.), second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, was chosen to chair the panel, the first Vietnam veteran to do so. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) defeated Nick Smith (Mich.) and Terry Everett (Ala.) for the vacant chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee. Although all three have conservative records, Smith was the only one who opposed the administration’s record-high farm bill and championed the Freedom to Farm concept that phases out all subsidies. In the Senate, several conservatives took over committees. Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, a conservative hero, may be a sharp contrast from the last Republican chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee—former Sen. Bob Smith (N.H.), who repeatedly disappointed fellow conservatives with his courtship of environmentalists. Alabama’s Richard Shelby will be the new chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Trent Lott (Miss.), forced out as majority leader, becomes chairman of the Rules Committee and thus will have oversight over offices and budgets for colleagues. Utah’s Orrin Hatch resumes the gavel at the Judiciary Committee. Conservatives are a bit edgy that Richard Lugar (Ind.) has become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position formerly held by conservative icon Jesse Helms (N.C.). Lugar led the Senate fight for ratification of the controversial Chemical Weapons Treaty over Helms’ opposition, supported U.S. payment of UN dues, and backed the INF Treaty in 1988 and the Start I and Start II treaties.
Staunch Conservative Representatives Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.) and Richard Pombo (R.-Calif.) have been named chairman of powerful House committees for the new 108th Congress.