Springfield State Journal Register

February 03, 2006

LaHood: Electing Boehner sends message of reform


WASHINGTON - House Republicans elected Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as their new majority leader Thursday, a move that "sets the tone that we are about reform," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, one of Boehner's early supporters.

"I think it's a good message for our conference to be sending to our base also that we know we have to change things if we want to stay in the majority," LaHood said. "It's a direct cutoff from the Tom DeLay era."

In a 122-109 secret vote, Boehner defeated Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri as successor to the indicted DeLay. His victory was a surprise because Blunt had been the front-runner with more public endorsements going into the secret-ballot session.

Boehner's new position makes him the second-highest-ranking Republican behind House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Plano.

Blunt, who will retain his position as majority whip, has been serving as acting majority leader since DeLay was charged with campaign violations in Texas.

LaHood and other Republicans had been urging a change in leadership to distance themselves from DeLay and the growing scandal surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to bribery and other charges.

Boehner said his campaign was about reform and emphasized his experience as chairman for the House Education and Workforce Committee.

A third candidate, Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, withdrew after finishing last in the first round of balloting. Both he and Boehner had portrayed themselves as reform candidates.

Boehner's style "will be to bring people together in a bipartisan way and to also work with the conference to ... bring people together" the way he helped steer the No Child Left Behind legislation through the House, LaHood said.

"I think his style will be 365 degrees different from Tom DeLay's, and that's what people are looking for," said LaHood, who predicted Republicans would roll out a series of reform measures over the next six weeks.

LaHood wouldn't speculate whether his early support for Boehner would boost his own chances of someday climbing up the leadership ladder.

"I'm not interested in doing that," he said.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, wouldn't say which candidate he voted for in the secret session. Earlier, he had told reporters that he would follow Hastert's advice.

"It was a good process. I think it was very healthy. I think folks know we need to make a course correction, and we were able to do it midterm with an election," Shimkus said.

However, he downplayed the significance of the vote as a call for dramatic change.

House Democrats were quick to criticize the election of Boehner, saying he's just as closely allied with lobbyists as DeLay was.

"John Boehner moved over a chair or two in the Republican leadership's game of musical chairs, but the special interests are still playing the same old tune," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Chicago.

Lawmakers from both parties have close ties to lobbyists, and many are moving to break those ties. Until recently, Emanuel and Shimkus both had lobbyists as the treasurers of their fundraising committees.

A spokeswoman for Emanuel said Thursday he has replaced lobbyist William Singer with David Boul, an independent TV producer and longtime friend.

Shimkus said he also is considering removing lobbyist Mark Valente as treasurer of his political action committee, but doesn't want to act hastily.

"When you do stuff like that, you readily admit that there's something improper about this. So we're going to take our time ... " Shimkus said. "There is nothing improper in this relationship, so I don't feel the need to move like either he or I have done anything wrong."

LaHood also recently told lobbyists he no longer wanted them to organize campaign fundraisers for him.