Gizzi on Politics: Nov. 19-13

GOP’s 15th and 16th Leaving House

To the surprise of just about no one in Wyoming or Washington, Rep. Barbara Cubin (Wyo.) last week became the 15th Republican in the House to announce a decision not to run for re-election next year. After winning a seventh term last fall in a photo-finish with Democrat Gary Trauner, Cubin (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%) has missed more than half the votes in the House so she could spend more time in Wyoming with ailing husband Fritz.

In a sense, the maneuvering for appointment to the seat of the late Sen. (1994-2007) Craig Thomas (R.-Wyo.) earlier this year was a dress rehearsal for the Republican nomination battle to succeed Cubin in ’08. After Thomas’s death, Democratic Gov. John Freudenthal was required by state election law to name someone from the late senator’s party to fill the vacancy. The state Republican committee met and heard cases for appointment from at least a dozen Republicans and then submitted three names to the governor for consideration. Freudenthal tapped conservative State Sen. John Barrasso, who must face the voters in a special election in ’08 for the remaining four years of Thomas’s term.

The top vote-getter for the Senate appointment at the state committee meeting was Tom Sansonetti, now the most-talked-of GOP possibility for Cubin’s congressional seat. Sansonetti was U.S. Interior Department solicitor and assistant attorney general for the environment under George W. Bush. The Cheyenne lawyer has also served as his state’s Republican national committeeman and, after narrowly losing the nomination for the state’s lone House seat to fellow conservative GOPer Thomas in 1989 (following the resignation of then-Rep. Dick Cheney to become secretary of Defense), Sansonetti went on to serve as Thomas’s chief of staff in the House.

Another competitor in the Republican Senate appointment sweepstakes this year also being mentioned for Cubin’s seat is former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead. A conservative in the mold of Sansonetti and Cubin, Meade also has a distinguished pedigree among Wyoming Republicans: His late mother Mary Mead was the GOP nominee for governor in 1990, and his grandfather was Clifford Hansen, who served as governor (1962-66) and senator (1966-78).

The scenario of having Sansonetti, Meade and possibly four other conservatives all running in the race raises the odds that the GOP nod will go to the least conservative candidate. That would be State Rep. Colin Simpson, who also sought the GOP committee’s blessing for the Senate. He is cut from the same cloth as his father, former Republican Sen. (1978-96) Alan Simpson: conservative on spending but liberal on social issues.

Democrats are expected to give ’06 near-winner Trauner another shot at the seat, and the wealthy trial lawyer recently signaled he is running.

New Jersey’s Saxton Is 16th

Twenty-three years after he succeeded Rep. (1969-84) Ed Forsythe, another New Jersey Republican who battled cancer, Jim Saxton last week became the 16th House Republican to announce he was stepping down in ’08. Saxton (lifetime ACU rating: 71%) cited his ongoing fight with prostate cancer as the reason for calling it quits.

Although Saxton was considered more conservative than Forsythe or Forsythe’s Republican predecessor, late Rep. (1958-69) and Gov. (1969-73) William T. Cahill, the 3rd District lawmaker did frequently irk supporters on the right with some key votes. Days before his retirement announcement, Saxton was one of only a handful of House Republicans who voted to override the President’s veto of the expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Given the history of the district (Burlington-Ocean), then, it is no surprise to see some less-than-conservative Republicans mentioned as prospective candidates. David Norcross, a past state party chairman and close ally of New Jersey’s liberal Republican former Gov. (1993-97) Christine Todd Whitman, is widely mentioned for the seat. When Norcross sought the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee a decade ago, the headline in Human Events (Jan. 17, 1997) summed up the attitude of conservatives: “Cross Off Norcross for RNC Chairman.” At that time, we cited the New Jerseyan’s background as a Washington-based lobbyist and his suggestion that “we may have to modify the language” of the pro-life plank in the GOP’s national platform as reasons for opposing his bid for the  chairmanship. (Norcross placed third in the race won by Jim Nicholson.)
The 64-year-old Norcross, son-in-law of former House GOP Leader Bob Michel (Ill.), is now state chairman of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.

Also touted as a contender for Congress is State Sen. Dianne Allen, another Whitman Republican well-known from decades as a TV anchorwoman in nearby Philadelphia. Working against Allen is geography: She comes from the Burlington part of the district, which usually comprises about 9% of the primary vote, and more populous Ocean County is considered more likely to determine the nominee.

Democrats are expected to go all out to win the seat and have a well-known candidate in State Sen. John Adler of Cherry Hill, a 19-year veteran of the legislature and current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Death of a Trailblazer

Although her death on October 25 was a jolt to her friends from Rapid City, S.D., to Washington, D.C., and around the world, Carole Hillard died as she had lived—as a true adventurer, with zest and flair. She died from injuries suffered in a fall onboard a sailboat in the Adriatic Sea off Croatia. The former Rapid City councilwoman and first-ever woman lieutenant governor of South Dakota had just completed a State Department assignment in Turkmenistan.

A graduate of the University of Arizona, Hillard went on to earn a master’s degree from South Dakota State University while raising five children and helping her husband operate an automobile dealership with 140 employees. In 1983, as she received that degree, she was elected to the Rapid City Common Council and rose to become chairman of its Legal and Finance Committee and council president.

Elected to the state house of representatives in 1990, Hillard forged a record as a strong conservative while chairing the Legislative Audit Committee and serving as vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

When flamboyant former Republican Gov. William Janklow roared back into his old job in 1994, he had to share headlines with GOP ticket-mate Hillard as she became the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor in state history.

Re-elected resoundingly in 1998, Hillard was boomed as a possible Republican contender for either a U.S. Senate seat (both of which were in Democratic hands after 1996) or the state’s at-large U.S. House district. Thanks, but no thanks, she said, preferring her duties as presiding officer of the state senate and encouraging young conservatives to pursue careers in politics. Among those mentored by Hillard were Rapid City Mayor Alan Hanks (for whom she was once a Boy Scout den mother) and present Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, who was state senate majority leader when she was lieutenant governor.

When Hillard left South Dakota’s second-highest office in 2002, the world became her precinct. She jetted around the globe, participating in election-monitoring and workshops on political participation for groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute. Among the 60 countries in which she worked with local officials on everything from strengthening economic ties to the U.S. to deal with the press were Egypt, Qatar, Niger and Tunisia.

Perhaps the most poignant commentary on Hillard came several years ago from plitical comrade Janklow: “To keep up with Carole, you need a parachute and a snack pack.”