Gizzi on Politics: Oct. 8-12

Everett Exits

The ninth Republican retiree from the U.S. House of Representatives made his announcement two weeks ago, and it was something of a surprise. It’s not so much that Rep. Terry Everett (R.-Ala.) appeared to be a “lifer” in Congress, but, rather, that the 70-year-old lawmaker from the Montgomery-area 2nd District was such a quiet, low-key figure that few in the national media noticed him. A U.S. Air Force veteran who never finished college, Everett worked as a newspaper reporter, later bought and published the Union Springs (Ala.) Herald and became a successful real estate developer. More than anything he did as a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and player in the passage of the annual farm bill, Everett (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 95%) may be best remembered for his first-ever run for office in 1992 when he upset the Democrat who was heir to Alabama’s best-known political name: George Wallace, Jr.
With Everett’s retirement announcement, “almost every able-bodied politician from Prattville to Dothan is being mentioned as a possible contender,” said the “Doc’s Political Parlor” blog, which is a favorite of Alabama political junkies.

Much of the immediate attention focused on Steve Pelham, Everett’s district director for a decade and, since ’01, the state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office. As the “go-to-guy” for the popular congressman and overseer of more than $2 billion in federal largess over the past six years, the 50-year-old Pelham is likely to begin the race as the Republican front-runner. “I’m certainly considering it,” Pelham told me last week, “But it’s certainly not something I can discuss until I resign from the position I now hold.”

Three state representatives—Jay Love and Greg Wren of Montgomery and Barry Mask of Elmore County—and the mayors of Troy (Jimmy Lunsford) and Montgomery (Bobby Bright) are also on the list of prospective Republican candidates to succeed Everett. Bright dubs himself an “independent,” although the term is meaningless because there is no voter registration by party in the Yellowhammer State and a candidate can seek nomination to office in whatever primary he chooses.

Pundits and pols point out that the district has been in Republican hands without interruption since 1964, when Everett’s predecessor, Bill Dickinson, won his first term as Barry Goldwater was sweeping Alabama’s electoral votes. However, with the district’s being open for only the second time in 44 years, Democrats might be tempted to run a first-tier candidate—say, former Supreme Court Justice Sonny Butts.
Farewell to Congress’s

‘Kim Novak’

“Kim Novak” was how Republican colleagues in the House and reporters who covered Capitol Hill often referred to Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R.-Wash.) when they couldn’t immediately recall her name. The Republican lawmaker, who represented the Evergreen State’s 8th District (suburban Seattle) from 1992-2004, bore a striking resemblance to the sultry, blonde star of such sizzling films as Picnic.

But when Dunn died suddenly September 5 from a blood clot in her lung, the 66-year-old former lawmaker was remembered for much more than her striking looks.

As a housewife and IBM employee in the 1960s, Stanford graduate Dunn became active in local Republican politics. When Ronald Reagan sought the Republican nomination for President in 1976, she was a vigorous volunteer on his behalf. That year, Dunn and other Reaganites lined up nearly all the delegates from the Evergreen State to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, where Reagan narrowly lost to incumbent President Gerald Ford. After Reagan became President in 1981, Dunn was elected Republican state chairman—the first woman to be a chairman of either party in state history. Under Dunn’s chairmanship, conservatives began to win more nominations for legislative and statewide office, culminating in the nomination of stalwart conservative State Rep. Bob Williams for governor in 1988. (Williams lost and now heads the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation.)

But Dunn also had a good working relationship with moderate GOPers, and under her aegis, moderate former Gov. (1964-76) Dan Evans won a special election to fill out the term of the late Democratic Sen. (1952-83) Henry “Scoop” Jackson in 1983. When Evans retired five years later, former GOP Sen. (1980-86) Slade Gordon managed a dramatic comeback with help from Dunn-like conservatives and won the open seat.
In 1992, Dunn won the open 8th District. She usually voted the conservative line (lifetime ACU rating: 89%), but differed from her hero Reagan in not being pro-life (although Dunn did oppose federal funding for abortions). After her death, Republicans for Choice issued a statement of tribute to the former lawmaker.

A member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Dunn became, as vice chairman of the Republican Conference, the first woman to serve in the House GOP leadership team and once delivered the televised response to President Clinton’s State of the Union address. In 1998, she suffered the first setback of her congressional career when she unsuccessfully challenged then-Rep. Dick Armey (R.-Tex.) for the position of House majority leader.

Perhaps Dunn’s most lasting contribution was her encouragement of young people to run for office on the Republican ticket. Conservative radio talk show host John Carlson, the Republican nominee for governor of Washington in 2000, got his start in politics with Dunn at state party headquarters after graduating from the University of Washington. Dino Rossi, first encouraged to run for office by Dunn in the late 1980s, became state senator and lost the governorship in ’04 by a microscopic and much-disputed 130 votes. And Jennifer Dunn’s son Reagan Dunn is a King County councilman—and, yes, he was named for Ronald Reagan, who was not yet President when Reagan Dunn was born.