Politics 2005Week of February 7

Party Time

“The average term of a state Republican chairman these days is 18 months,” Dick Foley, himself chairman of the Connecticut GOP from 1991-93, told me recently. With mounting problems complying with complex campaign finance regulations, such as McCain-Feingold and the rise of a professional class of consultants to oversee campaigns, the chairmanship of a state political party just isn’t what it used to be. These days, it is difficult to conceive of someone like John Bailey, another son of Connecticut, who chaired Nutmeg State Democrats from 1946 until his death in 1975–quite possibly, the longest tenure of any state chairman of either major party in American history–while doubling as Democratic National Committee chairman from 1961-68.

But there are those who still want the party helm in different states.

As the Republican National Committee closed its winter meeting following President Bush’s inauguration last month, there were changes in various state chairmanships. Among them:

Arkansas: Right After Rockefeller. Having gotten the state Republican Party back on its financial feet while doubling as state party chairman and lieutenant governor, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, son of former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, resigned his party post two weeks ago to prepare for a long-anticipated bid for governor in ’06. His replacement is State Sen. Gilbert Baker. Considered a strong conservative, Baker is also sure to be neutral in what is shaping up as a battle royal of a gubernatorial primary next year between Rockefeller and former Homeland Security Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson.

Colorado: Picking Up the Pieces. Colorado has the distinction of being the red state that provided the worst showing for the GOP beneath the presidential level. While their state’s nine electoral votes went handily for George W. Bush, Centennial State Republicans lost both a U.S. Senate and U.S. House seat, as well as their majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

Two weeks ago, state party Chairman Ted Halaby called it quits. Almost immediately, conservatives in the party began deluging former Rep. (1996-2002) Bob Schaffer with calls and e-mails, asking him to seek the chairmanship at the State Central Committee meeting in March. Stalwart conservative Schaffer (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100%), who lost the Senate primary last year to beer magnate Pete Coors (who went on to lose to Democrat Ken Salazar), told me that while he was “honored” with the encouragement, he would not run for chairman “because of the things I’m doing now. I’m happily employed in the private sector with a successful oil company, and I am already very active in the Colorado Leadership Program, which has trained many candidates who are now state legislators.”

Similarly, former state Senate GOP leader John Andrews, also a conservative and “termed out” of his legislative seat, said he would not seek the chairmanship.

At this point, the lone candidate for the chairmanship is state Vice Chairman Chuck Broerman of Colorado Springs, another strong conservative.

Connecticut: Jody’s Choice. With the resignation, guilty plea and pending sentencing on corruption charges of longtime GOP Gov. (1994-2004) John Rowland, it was only a matter of time before other Republicans associated with him left positions in state government and in the party organization. Last week, West Hartford attorney Herb Shephardson, Rowland’s hand-picked state party chairman, resigned. Acting Gov. Jody Rell promptly recommended, and the state committee endorsed, state Rep. Bill Hamzy of Plymouth as the new chairman.

In a state known increasingly as a haven for liberal Republicans, the 38-year-old Hamzy is considered moderate-to-conservative.

Kansas: Shallenburger Shines. One of the key recent victories for GOP conservatives came in the race for the party chairmanship of Kansas. Former state Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, 2002 gubernatorial nominee and a hero of Sunflower State conservatives, was elected chairman by the state committee last week. A close ally of Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), Shallenburger overcame the opposition of the “establishment” Republicans to win the gubernatorial primary two years ago, only to lose a close race in the fall to Democrat Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius.

Tennessee: First Out for Frist Seat. With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) recently underscoring his pledge to retire in ’06, Republicans are already lining up for what is sure to be their most contested statewide primary in memory. The latest to make public plans for a Senate bid next year is State Rep. and state party Chairman Beth Harwell, who resigned her party post two weeks ago to gear up to succeed Frist. The State Committee thereupon chose Deputy Chairman Bob Davis, onetime assistant to former Sen. (1994-2002) Fred Thompson (R.-Tenn.), as her successor. Both Harwell and Davis are considered conservatives.

James McClellan, R.I.P.

The conservative movement was saddened last week by the loss of one of its intellectual powerhouses. Dr. James McClellan, constitutional scholar, attorney, teacher, historian and author, died January 28 after a long illness.

A graduate of the University of Virginia Law School who also earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia, McClellan had a distinguished career as president of the Center for Judicial Studies and as the John M. Olin Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. His mastery of constitutional history and insight into American history and government held classes spellbound at the University of Alabama, Emory University (Ga.), and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

McClellan’s good nature and sweet drawl masked his cerebral nature. Along with his distinguished academic career, the Virginian was a fixture on Capitol Hill, working for the U.S. Senate. From 1981-83, he was chief counsel and staff director of the Subcommittee on the Separation of Powers of the Senate Judiciary Committee under the chairmanship of the late Sen. (1954-2002) Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.).

McClellan made a strong-but-losing bid for the Virginia House of Delegates. But ideas and discourse were more his love than politics, and in 1999, he was named a James Bryce Visiting Fellow at the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London.

The author of numerous scholarly monographs and studies, including in-depth philosophical books about Robert Taft, Joseph Story and James Madison, Jim McClellan worked right to the end on his writing projects.

Short Takes

News from North Dakota: One veteran North Dakota state legislator pointed out to me two days after the Bush inauguration last month how much time his state’s Republican governor, John Hoeven was spending with the President at the reviewing stand during the inaugural parade. Asked what the two were talking about, the lawmaker said, “The governor did confirm that the President was urging him to run for the Senate next year against [Democratic incumbent] Kent Conrad. Just re-elected as governor last fall, Hoeven has yet to say publicly whether he will challenge Conrad. The Roughrider State last elected a Republican U.S. senator in 1980–moderate GOPer Mark Andrews, who lost his bid for a second term in ’86 to Conrad.

Familiar Faces on Capitol Hill: In large part because of his distinctive name, Timmy Teepell quickly became well known on Capitol Hill as legislative point man for the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund. After a stint as deputy political director at the Republican National Committee, Teepell managed the winning campaign of Republican Bobby Jindall for Congress in Louisiana last year. Now Teepell has been tapped to be Jindall’s chief of staff. . . . Judge Ted Poe, who won a House seat from Texas last year, has named Heather Ramsey, his long-time right-hand woman at the District Court and his campaign manager, as his top aide in Congress. Ramsey knows Harris County (Houston) politics in and out since she was practically raised on it: Her grandfather, V.V. Ramsey, was one of the first Harris County commissioners elected on the Republican ticket. He won in the early 1960s, when the GOP county chairman was George H.W. Bush. Ramsey went on to serve nearly 20 years in the office.