With his office keeping his secret right up to its public announcement March 17, liberal GOP Rep. Sherwood D. Boehlert finally confirmed what was increasingly rumored: After 24 years as congressman from the upstate New York-based 28th District following 15 years as top aide to his two GOP predecessors, Boehlert is retiring this year. Speculation about the 68-year-old Boehlert’s leaving Congress had been mounting since 2004, when the lawmaker, formerly a heavy smoker, underwent bypass surgery. But friends of Boehlert insist his health is fine, that the real reason he is retiring is that the six-year-rule for House committee chairmen had kicked in and he would have to relinquish the chairmanship of the House Science and Technology Committee that he clearly loved. At a time when public interest in space exploration had faded, Boehlert strongly endorsed President Bush’s call for manned missions to the moon and Mars.
But Boehlert (lifetime ACU rating: 40%) will probably be best remembered for being one of the most unashamed of the diminishing breed of House Republicans: liberals. He voted against the ban on partial-birth abortions that was a premier pro-life cause in Congress. He always voted to raise the minimum wage and backed teeth for the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, Boehlert was one of five House Republicans who stubbornly opposed drilling for oil in the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Reserves and thus killed chances for ANWR’s inclusion in an appropriations measure after it had passed the Senate.
Always a gentleman, the New Yorker never let his views get in the way of being friends with those who happened to be conservative. Among them, me. When others were around, we never let obvious disagreements bubble up. During a black-tie event at the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1991, Boehlert introduced me to his travel-agent daughter, who promptly pitched me for business. A chance meeting at Washington’s Reagan National Airport last year resulted in his inviting me for coffee and sharing his impressions of a meeting he had in Libya with Muammar Qaddafi. Boehlert also read Human Events and occasionally shared stories — such as how he voted for conservative Newt Gingrich for Republican Whip over the more moderate Rep. Ed Madigan (Ill.) because he felt we needed "dynamic leadership."
Boehlert’s exit almost certainly means that Republicans in the 24th District will nominate five-term State Sen. Ray Meier for Congress. In contrast to the incumbent, the 53-year-old Meier takes conservative stands on social issues and will almost certainly have the ballot line of New York’s Conservative Party. In obvious anticipation of Boehlert’s announcement, several Democrats had entered the September 12 primary. The local consensus is that the nomination will go to Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri. Although the district has been in Republican hands without interruption since 1958, Arcuri is considered a first-rate contender and the now-open district is a cinch to be a top Democratic target.