Two Congressmen I’ll Miss

In the aftermath of the presidential election, two significant Congressional races have gone unnoticed. Last Tuesday, America lost two representatives who have served their districts and their nation honorably: Charlie Stenholm of Texas and Phil Crane of Illinois.

Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-TX, earned a reputation as one of his party’s most responsible moderates. Representing the interests of west Texas, he became the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. During his 25-year tenure, he displayed his mainstream values by voting to allow residents of Washington, D.C., to carry handguns; to support the Pledge of Allegiance; oppose Partial Birth Abortion; and shield gun manufacturers from nuisance lawsuits (the sort that Bill Clinton threatened to file in his second term). Stenholm continues to serve as a federal advisor to Democrats for Life. He gained national fame as one of only five Democrats to vote for three of four impeachment articles against President Clinton in 1998. Of these five Congressmen, only three remain in the House, and only one of those – Gene Taylor of Mississippi – is still a Democrat. Since President Bush took office, he has supported President Bush’s agenda 60 percent of the time. Yet unlike his fellow Democratic defectors, Stenholm was done in, not by party in-fighting but by Tom Delay’s Congressional reapportionment, which forced to run against fellow incumbent Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer…a Republican only marginally more conservative than he is. At a time when the Democratic Party seems out of touch on social and morality issues, Stenholm’s thoughtful counsel would have proven most instructive in re-establishing them as a national party. His voice in his party will be sorely missed.

Rep. Phil Crane also lost his race last Tuesday to Democratic challenger Melissa Bean just one day before his 74th birthday. The longest-serving Republican in the House, who served 35 years in the seat formerly held by Donald Rumsfeld, actually ran for president in 1980. A former chairman of the American Conservative Union, Crane was one of the few Congressmen to have a near-perfect ACU lifetime voting record. Throughout his years in the House, Crane became his party’s most dependable advocate for slashing tax rates, rolling back trade barriers, and trimming unnecessary federal bureaucracy. (Every year, he introduced a bill to defund the National Endowment for the Arts.) In 2000, as Speaker Dennis Hastert turned aside his bid to serve as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Crane acknowledged he had developed “an increased dependence on alcohol.” (He successfully sought rehabilitation.) Republicans, too, should heed the message Phil Crane brought to his colleagues: cut spending, lighten government intrusions into the market, and reign in the growth of government. Without remembering their small government, fiscally responsible roots, Republicans will continue to lose credibility on an issue they used to own.

Goodbye, Congressmen. Thank you for your service. Your nation will miss you.

Ben Johnson, Managing Editor, FrontPage Magazine

This article originally appeared on Wednesday, November 10, 2004, as part of the “War Blog” entry on FrontPage Magazine.