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NRCC's Texas candidate may prove self-defeating

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted December 10, 2001

I really hate this town. And my hatred has grown more intense as each year has gone by. If you don't believe me ask Eric Licht, the president of Coalitions For America, the sister organization to the Free Congress Foundation. Eric has known me since 1973 and has worked for me for more than 20 years. He keeps an index of my feelings about Washington.

When I first came here for the 90th Congress to work in the Senate there was some decency left. There was a code of honor in the Congress which only people on the fringe broke. Members of Congress by and large kept their word. If you didn't, that soon became known and you were ostracized. It is why Sen. Chuck Percy (R-IL) despite representing an important state, despite having wealth and favorable media, never went anywhere in the Senate. He didn't keep his word and his colleagues knew it.

In those days, when there was a leadership vote, Senators knew within one vote how it would turn out, because Senators told the whips how they would vote, and they kept their word. Today the margin is five votes. In the House of Representatives, it was possible to come within three to five votes in head counting in a leadership race. Now you are blessed if it is 10 to 15 votes.

What really has me corked off is a recent story in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. It seems that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) thinks it has a first class candidate against Representative Ralph Hall, Democrat of Texas. He is Kevin Eltife, the Mayor of Tyler. Hall has had some Republicans added to his district on account of reapportionment and so he appears to be more vulnerable than in the past.

Representative Ralph Hall

Lest I be guilty of less than full disclosure, Rep. Hall has served on the Free Congress Board since 1985 and has been chairman for the past several years, succeeding Jeff Coors who served as chairman for 15 years and who remains on the Free Congress board to this day.

Hall is a true conservative. He has a better voting record than half the Republicans. What has me so upset is that time and time again Hall has bailed out the Republican leadership on close votes. I know. Countless times I've been asked to talk to Congressman Hall about this vote or that. Moreover I know of countless other times when the GOP leadership has had to go to Hall to try to line up the last few votes for razor-thin victories.

Do you have any idea how many close victories the House leadership has delivered this Congress? Hall has been on the right side of every single question. He also was one of a handful of Democrats to vote for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

So the party which depends on Hall to win on its legislative agenda is the party which will raise big money to defeat Hall in order to stay in power. That Hall is a real American who never lets the president down, who was active with Democrats for Bush in 2000, who twists arms to help the leadership get a vote here and there, means nothing to the Republicans.

There are many Republican Members who vote against the leadership again and again. They even embarrass the GOP leadership with things like discharge petitions on campaign finance reform. Many of these liberal Republicans appear opposite the Speaker and Majority Leader and Majority Whip on television talk shows, so it appears that the Republican Party is deeply divided. Actually, it is only a small minority taking the liberal position.

Let's face it, the reason Hall's vote is needed in the first place is precisely because of these liberal GOP defections. So now these liberals are to be completely forgiven because after all they vote right for Speaker.

But Hall, who votes with the GOP leadership 95 per cent of the time when his vote is really needed, he can be tossed in the political ash heap because he casts the wrong vote for Speaker. Just remember, Hall was the one Democrat who refused to vote for Tip O'Neill when Tip was elected Speaker for the last time.

I don't speak for the Congressman but if, at the beginning of the 108th Congress, the speakership comes down to Hall and a couple of others, I would not be surprised to see Ralph Hall keeping Denny Hastert in power one way or another. Whether he would switch parties at that point or whether he would abstain on the first ballot I don't know for sure. I just know that in a razor-thin contest Hall could be counted on to do the right thing-unless he is so ticked at the way the Republicans dumped on him in the campaign he changes his mind. Still I don't see that happening.

Now if the Democrats win in a landslide (which right now looks like a good possibility) there would be no point to Hall switching parties. And in that case the GOP Minority Leader will be very grateful for any votes Hall can deliver for the president's program.

The late Senator Gordon Allott, my mentor, early on pointed to this conservative or even moderate Democrat and told me that Allott and that Democrat had a gentlemen's understanding that they would not campaign against each other. In one case Allott even told the GOP Senatorial Campaign Committee that he did not think it a good idea to pour GOP dollars against one particular incumbent, since he had been so helpful to President Richard Nixon.

That is what should be happening now. Instead this party wants to kill off the one fellow who consistently delivers for them. If they do so they may well stay in power but will be incapable of delivering those close votes. On the other hand, I wouldn't ever count out Hall. He is very beloved in his district and delivers for them. Plus Ralph Hall is one of the funniest people in politics today. He knows how to tell a good story. That forgotten art is not likely to be unappreciated in Rockwall, Tyler and everywhere in between.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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