Gizzi on Politics: August 13-17

Rupture With the Past in Ill.-18
There may be history in the making in the historically Republican 18th U.S. House District of Illinois. For the first time in 60 years, the retiring House member might not hand pick his successor. When he retired in 1956 after eight years in office, Rep. Harold Velde, the last Republican to serve as chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, endorsed top aide Bob Michel to succeed him. Michel won a crowded primary that year, went on to hold the district for 38 years and served 14 years as House GOP leader before retiring in 1994. Michel, in turn, blessed his top aide Ray LaHood as his heir. In large part due to that endorsement, Michel-style moderate-to-conservative LaHood won the ’94 primary over former State Rep. Judy Koehler, a stalwart conservative.

With the recent retirement announcement by LaHood (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 74%), the tradition of having the retiring congressman name his successor may well be broken. Most of the talk in Republican circles in the district now focuses on an already announced candidate for the seat who is considered far more conservative than LaHood: 26-year-old State Rep. Aaron Schock.

“Young man in a hurry” is another way Schock is often described. Elected to the Peoria School Board as a write-in candidate at age 19, he was elected board president at age 23 in ’04. That same year, Schock won his seat in the state legislature by defeating a Democratic incumbent and remains the youngest member of the legislature. Rated 80% by the conservative United Republican Fund of Illinois, Schock is to the right of the other GOP lawmaker from Peoria eyeing the open 18th District, State Rep. Daniel Leitch (lifetime URF rating: 70%).

Among the other candidates being mentioned for the February primary are Peoria businessman Jim McConoughey and former City Councilman John Morris. The practice of anointing the successor in the district could be revived, however, if the retiring congressman’s son, Peoria lawyer Darin LaHood, enters the race.

Nonetheless, conservatives are making it clear who their candidate is. So far, 11 out of the 20 Republican county chairmen in the district have endorsed Schock. As Tazewell County GOP Chairman Demetra DeMonte told the Peoria Journal Star: “Tazewell is a conservative county, and Aaron is guided by conservative principles.”

Swann Song: Take Hart

“I talked to Lynn Swann two weeks ago and we almost had him in, but, no, he won’t do it,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) told me last week, after he had delivered a moving tribute at a memorial service for late NRCC Chairman Guy Vander Jagt (Mich.), whom Cole had served as executive director during Vander Jagt’s final election cycle as chairman. “But I mean in no way to disparage Melissa Hart. She’s outstanding.”

Cole and I had been discussing Pennsylvania politics, and he was referring to onetime professional football star and ’06 Republican gubernatorial nominee Swann. When I was in Philadelphia in May, talk was rampant that national party leaders were working hard to recruit Swann for a race against freshman Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania’s 4th District (Aliquippa-Beaver Falls). Although Swann got mediocre grades from pundits and pols for his mastery of issues as the losing candidate against Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell last year, many GOP leaders nonetheless still believe he has potential as an office-seeker and would have improved after his ’06 maiden race for office.

But Swann won’t do it next year. Just as Swann was telling Cole and others he would stay on the political sidelines, former Rep. Melissa Hart was saying she wanted a rematch with Altmire. Having emerged on the political scene with a bang in 1990—when she unseated a sitting Democratic state senator—Hart went on to become the first Republican to win election to Congress from the 4th District in 24 years. Compiling a solid conservative voting record on both cultural and economic issues (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%), she seemed destined for a long career in the House or a move to statewide office.

But ’06 yielded many surprises at the ballot boxes nationwide. During the ’01 redistricting process, recalled the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “she lobbied to have Republican-rich sections of the old 4th District redrawn into a new district to accommodate congressional newcomer Timothy Murphy (R.-Upper St. Clair).” Last year, lawyer and first-time candidate Altmire rode the long coat-tails of Rendell and Democratic Senate winner Bob Casey, Jr., and upset Hart by a margin of 51% to 49%.

Now she has a chance at a rematch. But first, the former congresswoman has to win the primary next May against fellow GOPer Ron Francis, an attorney and former Allegheny County councilman. Francis insisted to reporters that his fund-raising is “going well,” that he likes Hart, but will stay in the race. Veteran observers would not be surprised if the NRCC became involved in the contested primary on behalf of former Rep. Hart.
Wiley Mayne, R.I.P.

As Iowa Republicans prepared to go Ames for the August 11 Republican presidential “straw vote,” many of them stopped to recall one of their key conservative leaders in the 1960s: former four-term Rep. Wiley Mayne, who died May 27. At a time when conservatives increasingly complain that the Bush Administration has abandoned the issue of trimming federal government spending, Sioux City lawyer Mayne was recalled by admirers in Washington and throughout the Hawkeye State as someone who championed the economy issue on the campaign trail and in Congress.

A native Iowan and graduate of Harvard College and Iowa Law School, Mayne spent two years as special agent in the FBI. After seeing action in World War II, he returned to Iowa and threw his considerable energy into the practice of law. He served as president of the Iowa Bar Association from 1963-64 and later chaired the Grievance Commission of the Iowa Supreme Court.

In 1966, Mayne made his first run for office as the Republican nominee against Democratic Rep. Stanley Greigg, who had captured the 6th District two years before, when Lyndon Johnson and Democratic Gov. Harold Hughes swept the district. Greigg campaigned for re-election by bragging about how much federal money he had brought home.

“Rep. Stanley Greigg is like a card up the sleeve of a riverboat gambler,” opponent Mayne told Human Events, “and Lyndon Johnson pulls him out and plays with him whenever he needs him.” The GOP hopeful was referring to an incident that year after Greigg had voted no on a $20 million rent subsidy program. But then White House lobbyists realized they had fallen short on the administration-backed measure. As Human Events reported (Oct. 29, 1966), “[F]our congressmen who had voted ‘nay’ were marched to the well of the House to change their votes to ‘present.’ Among the four turncoats: Stanley Greigg.”
Mayne hit that hard, and also slammed Greigg for his vote to repeal Section 14b of the Taft-Hartley law — an issue that resonated in a right-to-work state.

Elected handily, Mayne joined with close friend and fellow Iowa Republican Rep. (1948-74) H.R. Gross in exposing wasteful spending by government and trying to stop it. In 1974, he joined with a handful of other colleagues to highlight and lead the charge against a proposed pay raise for themselves and their colleagues in the House. He also fiercely defended his old boss J. Edgar Hoover whenever liberal Democrats in the House called for the ouster of the venerable FBI director.

Like so many of his Republican colleagues, Mayne was a victim of the so-called “Watergate Year” of 1974, losing his seat to Democrat Berkley Bedell. Twelve years later, when Bedell retired, the 6th District returned to Republican hands with the election of “Love Boat” star Fred Grandy, a former Mayne staffer (who proved to be far more moderate than his boss).

Perhaps the most poignant comment about the former congressman was made by another Iowan who knew him well. “Was Wiley conservative?” veteran pollster Craig Tufty replied when I asked for recollections of the former congressman. “Why do you even have to ask?”