Races of the Week:Wohlgemuth vs. Edwards

When Bernard Erickson became the first Republican state legislator from Johnson County, Tex., in 1992, faithful party workers such as GOP County Chairman Arlene Wohlgemuth cheered.

But when Erickson turned his back on these supporters, switched parties, and sought re-election as a Democrat in ’94, there were a lot of red faces among Republicans–notably that of Chairman Wohlgemuth, who took it upon herself to punish the renegade by running against him. As fellow Republican George W. Bush was winning the governorship that year, party stalwart Wohlgemuth finally edged out Erickson by a microscopic 22 votes.

The story of the fighting lady who took out the ingrate was widely known in Lone Star State political circles. As Wohlgemuth recalled, “[White House political operative-to-be] Karl Rove told me later that as George W. was rolling up a victory in the governor’s race, he kept asking Karl, ‘How’s Arlene doing?'”

Arlene did well in Austin. Working closely with the new governor, she helped shepherd his record-high tax cut through the state legislature in 1997. She also worked hard on pro-family measures, such as the thwarting of gay adoption legislation. Last year, as Texas was gripped with a $10-billion budget shortfall, Wohlgemuth worked with Republican Gov. Rick Perry to secure a balanced budget without a tax increase.

Looking back at her record after a decade in the legislature, the Burleson housewife summarized it as “for free enterprise, liberty, limited government, and the family.” Now, she hopes to take those simple-yet-powerful values to Washington as the new U.S. representative from the 17th District. The much-watched redistricting in Texas dramatically changed the district that had long been dubbed “the Waco district.” Waco is still a key portion of the district, albeit a much smaller one (only 36%) than before the legislature sculpted a new map of House districts. More than two-thirds of the 17th is new territory.

All of this means that, after 14 years in Washington, Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards is seeking re-election in territory that is, for the most part, all new to him. And Democrat Edwards won his last term with only 51.5% of the vote–before the Republican-orchestrated redistricting took place.

“And now we’re going to see the real record of my opponent,” declares Wohlgemuth, who won both a spirited primary and run-off to carry the GOP standard against Edwards (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 26%), “He voted against every one of the President’s tax cuts and he was for the ban on assault weapons. I’m proud to carry the endorsement of the NRA [National Rifle Association]. And he has been against a ban on partial-birth abortion every single time it was voted on. Sure, he’ll tell you he’s against abortion, that he put in his own ban on partial-birth abortion. But it was one that included an exception for “mental reasons,” which could mean what kind of a mood one is in.”

The conservative hopeful is quick to note that Edwards has adapted to changed political terrain before and survived. After losing a bid for Congress in College Station in 1978 at the age of 26, Democrat Edwards thereupon moved to Duncanville to win a state senate seat. When late Democratic Rep. Marvin Leath retired in 1990, Edwards moved more than 100 miles to Waco to pursue the open district and won.

With help from conservatives in and outside the 17th, Arlene Wohlgemuth will not only oust Chet Edwards but, in the process, also help those who have helped her before. Her election will moreover no doubt especially delight one 17th District constituent who is obviously not pleased with the record of his present congressman. He votes in Crawford and his name is George W. Bush.

(Arlene Wohlgemuth for Congress, P.O. Box 878, Burleson, Tex. 76097; 979-846-5505)