Conservatives Call on Shadegg to Lead

With the decision by embattled Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) to step down as House majority leader and the resulting fierce contest for succession between Republican Representatives Roy Blunt (Mo.) and John Boehner (Ohio), a number of conservatives in the Republican House majority are saying they want to see Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) enter the race.

These conservatives were looking for a candidate not only committed to advancing the conservative agenda but also, unlike Blunt and Boehner, free of extensive ties to the high-powered lobbying networks that often have been linked to DeLay.

For many, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee and Human Events Man of the Year for 2005, had seemed like the ideal candidate to replace DeLay. But two days after DeLay announced his resignation as majority leader, Pence issued a statement saying he would not seek the position, citing his young family and saying he believed he could do more good for the conservative movement at this time by continuing to lead the Republican Study Committee.

Speculation turned immediately to Shadegg, a close Pence ally and fellow conservative activist. The son of Steve Shadegg, Barry Goldwater’s longtime political quarterback, John Shadegg has also served as chairman of the Study Committee and now chairs the House Republican Policy Committee. Elected to Congress in the Class of 1994 that gave Republicans a majority in the House after four decades of Democratic control, Shadegg still champions such key positions of that class as defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and he has backed inventive proposals such as one to permit states to opt out of the minimum wage increase.

A variety of House Republicans volunteered to me that they were not pleased with either Blunt or Boehner as candidates for leader and were encouraging Shadegg to take a shot in the leadership election, which Speaker Dennis Hastert has announced will be hold February 2.

Shadegg spokesman Michael Steel told me: “The congressman is in Phoenix attending the funeral of his best friend’s father, but has been receiving many calls of encouragement and will make a decision soon.” Noting that Shadegg has known me “longer than any Washington reporter,” Steel promised, “You will be among the first to know.”

For many conservatives, choosing between five-termer Blunt and nine-termer Boehner—who is assistant majority whip, past chairman of the House Republican Conference and chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee—is like rewiring an old jalopy rather than purchasing a new vehicle. Although both lawmakers have strongly conservative voting records (both have a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 94%), Blunt and Boehner are perceived as part of the same Republican team that has increasingly fumbled in advancing a conservative agenda in the House and, in the process, has disappointed grassroots activists.

With Blunt as acting majority leader (assuming the spot after DeLay’s indictment on campaign finance violations in Texas last year), the House GOP failed to deliver an appropriations package that included oiling drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) after it had passed the Senate. Boehner, critics point out, helped guide the big-spending “No Child Left Behind” federal education package favored by the Bush Administration and opposed by most conservatives to passage in the House. Both supported the President’s Medicare/prescription drug entitlement, the largest new welfare program since President Johnson’s Great Society.

Additionally, Blunt and Boehner both have close ties to lobbyists on Washington’s K Street—not a point of recommendation considering Congress may be headed, in the wake of Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea, toward the biggest lobbying-related scandal in decades. As the headline on the January 11 edition of the Washington Post put it: “Lobbying Colors GOP Leadership Contest; Rivals for DeLay Post No Stranger to K Street.”

“Long before the Jack Abramoff business took off, a lot of us were saying the party needs a new look and a new face in the House,” Rep. Walter Jones (R.-N.C.), a veteran of the House Class of 1994, told me. “Look, I have great respect for the two people running for leader, but neither can clearly say he is not part of the leadership. If we are going to survive as a majority in the House, we have to go with someone new.” Jones said he had “called John Shadegg and encouraged him to make the race.”

The North Carolinian recalled a dinner in November at Bullfeathers Restaurant on Capitol Hill with Rep. Gil Gutnecht (R.-Minn.), a fellow conservative and ’94 classmate. According to Jones, the two discussed DeLay’s problems, concluded that public trust in Congress was at a “low ebb,” and new leadership elections would “provide the opportunity to rebuild the public trust, but we need new faces to lead the effort.” Jones said he knew of “a lot of similar discussions to ours that went on at dinners, in offices, and on the House floor.”

Gutknecht has also encouraged Shaddegg to make the race, as have Representatives Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) and Zach Wamp (R.-Tenn.), who will be one of four candidates for House whip if Blunt vacates the job. One top aide to one of the uncommitted GOP lawmakers may have put it best: “There is clearly sentiment for ‘Mr. X’ to oppose Blunt and Boehner. But ‘Mr. X’ is running out of time.”

See related article: Arizona’s Sen. Kyl, Rep. Franks Back Shadegg