Politics 2005: Week of September 19

Gen. Myers for Governor?

If a number of heavyweight Republicans have their way, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be running for governor of Kansas next year. Gen. Richard B. Myers, whose four-year term as Joint Chiefs chairman ends next month, is reportedly planning to settle in Kansas to teach at the university level. The Kansas State University graduate is already being boomed as the Republican opponent to Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in ’06.

Although the general’s political views (and even his party registration, if any) are unknown, sources in Kansas told HUMAN EVENTS that Republican Sen. Sam Brownback “thinks very highly” of Myers. The same sources say Brownback held a closed-door meeting with a group of nine major GOP donors at the Courtyard Marriott in Wichita August 29, only weeks after Rep. Jerry Moran had stunned Sunflower State Republicans by opting for re-election instead of making a long-anticipated challenge to Sebelius. The group at the Marriott reportedly tried to persuade Brownback to run. But the conservative senator politely declined, and also reminded them that he had given his word to serve two full-terms and retire from the Senate in 2010. (Following Bob Dole’s resignation from the Senate in 1996, then-Rep. Brownback won the special election to fill out his term and has since won two terms of his own in 1998 and ’04). Brownback has also signaled he may run for President in ’08.

Once Brownback had made it clear that a gubernatorial bid was not on his screen, sources said the name of Myers—a familiar fixture on C-SPAN for his regular briefings at the Pentagon with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—was mentioned by several at the meeting. Among those at the Wichita session were David Murfin and Dick Smith (both independent oilmen), Spirit Airlines head Jeff Turner, and Wichita realtor Nestor Weigand, Jr., all considered major financial powers in the Kansas Republican Party.

Myers, on active duty until his retirement later this year, was unavailable for comment.

Hastings Keith, R.I.P.

The last Republican member of Congress from Massachusetts who could be labeled a conservative died June 15 at age 89. Hastings Keith, who represented the 12th District (Cape Cod) from 1958-72, was dubbed “a conservative Republican” by the Almanac of American Politics (1974) and “a moderate-to-conservative by Bay State standards” by HUMAN EVENTS in 1970. Unopposed for re-election in 1968, Keith survived a close primary challenge from a liberal Republican two years later and barely won the ’72 general election. Obviously seeing the political hand-writing on the wall, he retired two years later.

A graduate of Deerfield Academy and University of Vermont, Keith served as a battery officer in the Massachusetts National Guard before World War II. When fighting broke out, he joined the U.S. Army, saw action in Europe, and eventually retired as a reserve colonel. Keith taught at Boston University Evening College of Commerce and launched a highly successful career as a life insurance salesman for the Equitable Life Assurance Society. He was later a partner in a general insurance firm in Brockton.

But politics beckoned Keith. He served in the Massachusetts Senate from 1952-56 and, when Republican Rep. (1947-58) Donald Nicholson retired in 1958, Keith won his open House seat.

For years, the taciturn New Englander tended to his district’s concerns as a member of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and was re-elected with ease. But, as the Almanac wrote of Keith, “He is definitely the state’s most conservative congressman on the [Vietnam] War and Defense Department.” So, not surprisingly, he was seriously challenged in 1970.

State Sen. William Weeks, son of former Secretary of Commerce (1953-58) Sinclair Weeks, denounced Keith as a “reactionary” and drew 45% of the Republican primary vote against him. The fall campaign proved to be a referendum on Vietnam, as Keith faced Democrat Gerry Studds, a former campaign aide in the anti-war presidential bid of Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D.-Minn.).

Fueled by battalions of youthful volunteers and a campaign appearance on his behalf by McCarthy, Studds came within 1,800 votes of unseating Keith.

Given the closeness of that contest and subsequent redistricting that reduced Republican strength in his district, Keith retired in 1972. (Studds thereupon beat Republican Weeks, and in 1984, following revelations of his relationship with a House page, became the first congressman to admit he was gay.)

But Keith’s contribution to public life was not yet completed. As chairman of the National Committee on Public Employee Pension Systems, he railed against congressional pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments that dramatically raised pensions for retired members of Congress. In 1991, when Congress voted itself another pay raise, Keith wrote Senate leaders that the indexation of congressional pay “is a step that belongs in open debate, instead of being ‘unethically’ added to [an] ethics bill.” He also warned that the pay raise would add far more than $800,000 to pension wealth, as had been reported, and he suggested lawmakers should consider finding a way to cap the whole system (whose benefits were fully indexed for inflation).

Keith himself tried repeatedly to return his own pension, but the government refused to take it back.

Short Takes

Stockman’s Return: With the exception of the late Rep. (1994-98) Sonny Bono (R.-Calif.), the member of the celebrated “Class of ’94,” which put the GOP in control of the House after 40 years, who was most sought out by the media was Steve Stockman of Texas. A one-time homeless man who straightened out his life through Christian faith and conservative politics, Stockman made it to the House after two losing attempts. Running his campaign out of his garage, Stockman unseated a Democratic colossus: Rep. (1952-94) Jack Brooks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Unflinchingly conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 100%) and sometimes irreverent (“If I were a liberal, the media would hail me as an American success story, but instead they call me a ‘former vagrant.’”), Stockman never drifted from the conservative themes on which he campaigned. But in the historically Democratic 9th District (Beaumont), Stockman was unseated after one term by Democrat Nick Lampson.

So where is Stockman today? The former congressman has recently gone to work for the Arlington, Va.-based Leadership Institute. Headed by long-time conservative activist Morton Blackwell, the institute has trained two generations of young people for political campaigns. Stockman is, in his own words, “going back to his roots”—helping mobilize young conservatives on campus, teaching them how to win straw vote elections, and doing much of the same things he did as a past state chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas. As he told me, “I wake up every morning trying to think of something we can do to drive the liberals nuts!”

Voice of the NRCC: One of the best-liked conservative spokesmen on Capitol Hill has made a lateral move. Jonathan Collegio, press secretary to freshman conservative Rep. Patrick McHenry (R.-N.C.), has just signed on as spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Prior to his stint with McHenry, Collegio handled communications for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.