Gizzi on Politics: Week of November 7

Here Comes Mr. Jordan?

The latest in a string of powerful Republican U.S. House members from safe Republican districts to call it quits in ’06 is Ohio’s Mike Oxley, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. A former FBI agent (Oxley’s office wall boasted a signed photo of J. Edgar Hoover and he always took to the House floor to deliver a spirited defense of the late FBI director when Hoover’s record was under fire from the liberal media), Oxley was a state legislator when he won his 4th District seat in a special election in 1981.

Oxley (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 88%) became a master of “insider politics” in Washington, and rose to become a senior member of the House Commerce Committee. Despite a hard-fought campaign, the Ohioan was passed over for the Commerce chairmanship in 2000 in favor of Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. (1980-2004) Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, whom the House Republican leaders wanted to reward for changing parties. However, with the encouragement of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), the House Banking Committee was given additional jurisdiction over insurance and securities and rechristened Financial Services, with Oxley as chairman. He will probably be best remembered as co-author of the controversial Oxley-Sarbanes bill, the most comprehensive, and, many charge, intrusive, overhaul of securities regulation in a generation.

Now at 61, Oxley is stepping down—presumably for a lobbying position or heading a major trade association in Washington. Within hours of his retirement announcement last week, state Sen. Jim Jordan signaled he would seek the all-important Republican nomination in the May 2006 primary.

Oxley, his conservative votes notwithstanding, was less a leader on conservative issues than a consummate “back-room boy,” not unlike the Buckeye’s State’s other GOP powerhouses, Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney and Education Committee Chairman John Boehner.

In contrast, the 41-year-old Jordan is a major swashbuckler on the right in Columbus and has been since first winning a seat in the state House in 1994. In fact, his defeat of much-favored fellow state Rep. Jim Buechy—himself a conservative but not an activist—pegged Jordan as an “outsider” far removed from his party’s establishment leadership in the legislature.

In both the House and the Senate, Jordan has been the premier force behind anti-abortion legislation, notably the state’s parental consent law. He was honored as pro-life legislator of the year at the annual banquet of United Conservatives of Ohio in ’02. Jordan worked closely with Secretary of State and ’06 GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ken Blackwell. He also worked to secure legislative approval for Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act in ’04. Like Blackwell, one-time Ohio State University assistant wrestling coach Jordan is far removed from embattled Republican Gov. Robert Taft and, in fact, broke with his party’s statewide leader in ’03 when Taft called for a record tax increase.

As is always the case when a safe Republican seat opens up, there have been numerous other prospective candidates besides Jordan mentioned for nomination in the 4th District—which includes Mansfield, Marion (home of Warren G. Harding), Lima, Findlay (Oxley’s hometown), and Urbana. Among them are state Rep. Michael Gilb and Appellate Judge Robert Cupp. However, given Jordan’s strong conservative following and the fact that his senate district covers about 41% of the 4th District, there is speculation that, in the end, the other candidates will do something else. Gilb, for example, is reportedly eyeing a bid for the state Senate and Cupp a race for the state Supreme Court.

At a time when Ohio Republicans are in tumult and Democrats sense a comeback at several different levels, there is inevitably talk about a strong Democratic effort to capture the open 4th. However, in a district that gave Bush 65% of its votes in ’04, the chances of a victorious Democratic surge here are clearly between slim and none.

Dance Partners

Timing is everything in politics. Prior to Mike Oxley’s surprise retirement announcement last week, all signs indicated that Ken Blackwell—true to his promise to HUMAN EVENTS earlier this year that he would name a fellow conservative as his lieutenant governor running mate—was going to tap Jordan for his ticket. Indeed, sources close to both men told me the announcement of a Blackwell-Jordan ticket was imminent. Then Oxley said he wasn’t running and Jordan declared for Congress. (Under Ohio law, candidates for nomination as governor declare their lieutenant governor choice and they run as a team in the primary.)

Ohio sources say that Blackwell will now name another conservative. Among the possibilities frequently mentioned is former Rep. (1980-92) Bob McEwen. Well liked by social and economic conservatives, McEwen (lifetime ACU rating: 95%) placed second earlier this year in a tight Republican primary for nomination to fill the 1st District seat of GOP Rep. Rob Portman, who resigned to become U.S. trade representative. Supporters of McEwen say he is also considering a rematch with GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, who edged him out for the nomination and then won a close special election contest.

Perhaps taking a cue from Blackwell, one of his primary opponents, state Auditor Jim Petro, has already tapped a well-known conservative as his running mate. He picked Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, who is also widely known as the son of the physician who invented the maneuver for clearing breathing passages that bears his name. Heimlich is also the grandson of legendary dancing greats Arthur and Katherine Murray. According to Petro campaign quarterback Rex Elsass, “I can’t say for sure, but if racehorses are bred for racing, then Phil is a pretty good dancer.”

Kilgore Wasn’t Here

With Virginia voters to decide November 8 who will be their next governor, Republican Jerry Kilgore was conspicuous by his absence October 29 at an address in Norfolk by the head of his party. Flanked by servicemen and such state GOP leaders as Sen. George Allen and Rep. Thelma Drake, President Bush used his platform in Norfolk to thank many in uniform in the audience for their service in Iraq. But former state Atty. Gen. Kilgore, now locked in a nip-and-tuck contest with Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, was in the state capital for a luncheon of the Virginia NAACP.

“It’s a world away from the campaign for Richmond four years ago,” concluded the Washington Post, “when Republican Mark L. Earley could not get on President Bush’s calendar for a last-minute personal appearance to lift his slumping candidacy [against Democrat and current Gov. Mark L. Warner]. That was right after the terrorist attacks of September 11 had lifted Bush to the highest approval ratings of his presidency.”

So was Kilgore ducking his party’s leader, as the Post suggested, at a time when Bush’s popularity has apparently ebbed?

When I asked White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan about this, he replied: “I think that your characterization is wrong because, first of all, this was an official event. It was not a political event. And as with official events, we don’t invite candidates to those events. And in terms of Jerry Kilgore, the President strongly supports his candidacy. That’s why he has helped support him by appearing at events for him and helping to raise the necessary resources to be able to wage his campaign.”