Al Cederberg, R.I.P.

The "what if" or "if only" game is very common in political discussions. Just last week, conservatives were saying "if only" Rep. Al Cederberg (R.-Mich.), ranking Republican on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee chairman, had survived the re-election campaign that finished his congressional career in 1978, he would have been a key crafter of the Reagan budgets that cut domestic spending and revitalized national defense. Before Reagan helped make tight-fisted fiscal conservatism popular, Cederberg was one of its leading proponents in Congress. His many admirers were saddened to hear the news last week that he had died at age 88 after a long illness.

A native of Bay City, Mich., Elford A. Cederberg studied at Bay City College and was part of the Normandy landing while in the U.S. Army in World War II. Following his discharge, he went to work as manager of the Nelson Manufacturing Co. In 1949, Cederberg was elected mayor of his hometown, and in 1952, he succeeded veteran Republican Rep. (1912-14, 1920-52) Roy O. Woodruff.

Cederberg’s signature issues were opposition to domestic spending and support for national defense. He voted against all of Lyndon B. Johnson’s "Great Society" programs and played a key pro-defense role on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which was fairly evenly divided between hawks and doves. Cederberg survived the Johnson landslide of 1964 and, even after unfavorable redistricting in 1971, got through the so-called "Watergate Year" of 1974. But four years later, the new Democratic-leaning lines of his district and the fact that the congressman had sold his home in Bay City and stayed in a hotel while at home caught up with him. Democratic State Sen. Donald Albosta unseated Cederberg in a major upset.

Cederberg’s loss was big news in Human Events, which pointed out in a front-page story (Nov. 16, 1978) that, under the seniority system of the time, his departure meant that liberal Republican Rep. (1958-91) Sylvio Conte (Mass.) would become ranking GOP member of Appropriations. "Because of Cederberg," we noted, "the subcommittee [on defense] voted favorably on such issues as the B-1 bomber and the nuclear carrier. If Conte had been the ranking Republican on Appropriations, both issues would probably have been buried in this subcommittee."

Cederberg remained in the Northern Virginia area for several years after his defeat and then retired to Orlando, Fla.