John Erlenborn, R.I.P.

The conservative who was the premier Republican point man against liberal legislation in the House Education and Labor Committee after succeeding the late Rep. (1960-82) John Ashbrook (R.-Ohio) as ranking minority member died October 30. Former Rep. John Erlenborn, who represented the DuPage County (Illinois) area in Congress from 1964-84, died at his Warrenton, Va., home after a long bout with a neurological disorder.

A graduate of Notre Dame, Chicago native Erlenborn served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Following his discharge he earned a law degree from Loyola University and served a stint as an assistant state’s attorney in DuPage. After serving in the Illinois House from 1956-64, Erlenborn won an open U.S. House district in 1964.

The Almanac of American Politics in 1984 best characterized his service on the Education and Labor Committee: “The committee’s Democratic majority is solidly pro-organized labor and Erlenborn’s chances of gaining a working majority are slim, short of a Republican takeover of the House. Yet Erlenborn has had his successes on the floor. The common situs picketing and labor law reform bills the AFL-CIO hoped to pass during the Carter Administration were killed instead, and do not seem likely to be resurrected soon. Education and Labor’s Democrats have had to fight rearguard battles, to protect programs they passed 12 or 20 years ago; Republicans like Erlenborn in the early 1980’s have been on the offensive intellectually and politically.”

For his efforts on the committee, the Illinois lawmaker was strongly boomed by conservatives for secretary of labor after Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980. But, as Ed Meese and other in the Californian’s transition team noted, Reagan was adamant about one person in particular to hold the labor portfolio in his Cabinet, New Jerseyan and vigorous Reagan fund-raiser Raymond Donovan.

Erlenborn, who later served as president of the Legal Services Corp., was 78.