By Ira Smolensky
A tale of two reps
No matter what the results of the 2006 midterm election, two familiar faces will be missing from the 110th U.S. Congress when it opens its first session in January, 2007.
Tom Delay (Republican, 22nd District, Texas) announced that he would resign from the House of Representatives later this spring. Delay’s decision did not come as any great surprise. An aggressive, go-for-the-jugular right wing ideologue, Delay had become mired in scandal. Even if he had managed to hold on to his seat in November, there is a good chance that he would not have been able to finish out his term given his problems with the law.
At just about the same time, it was announced that Representative Lane Evans (Democrat, 17th District, Illinois) would not seek re-election in November. Evans’ decision was also not much of a surprise. He has been battling the effects of Parkinson’s disease for a number of years now. People familiar with Parkinson’s knew that, at some point, the busy schedule of a congressman would be too much even for Evans, who clearly was devoted to his job and the people he represented.
Of course, for folks in the 17th District, Evans’ retirement is big news.
Many supporters will miss his lucid presentation of enlightened issue positions. In his basic values and hopes, Evans has been a throwback to the best sentiments and practices of the New Deal, Civil Rights movement, and War on Poverty. Stated most plainly, Evans fully realized that the U.S. will never achieve true greatness until the “American Dream” is all inclusive.
But even those who differ from Evans ideologically have come to respect his work. His work on bringing recognition to the tragic effects of Agent Orange on our troops during the Vietnam War transcends ideological or party rifts. That is also true regarding the excellent level of “constituency service” with which Evans’ name has become synonymous.
Then, too, the political wheels are already turning. Republicans are beginning to throw a little more weight behind Andrea Zinga’s candidacy now that she will not have to run against a popular incumbent. And an avid group of Democrats are jockeying for position in the quest to replace Evans on the ballot.
In terms of national attention, however, Delay’s departure has pretty much overshadowed that of Evans. Of course, in terms of power and visibility, Delay was undoubtedly the more notable figure. Until his recent troubles, most candid observers would have marked Delay rather than Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert as the most powerful man in that chamber. And Delay was frequently confrontational, even bombastic in his public pronouncements. Indeed, Delay has stated that he plans to settle in Virginia or North Carolina so that he can stay close to “Beltway” politics. Apparently, he intends to remain a noisemaker, though, if Newt Gingrich’s quick eclipse (after a similar fall from power) is any indicator, such hopes may be a tad optimistic.
Evans, on the other hand, eschewed a role in the Democratic Party hierarchy and preferred to work on issues behind the scenes. He appears to be deeply respected by his fellow legislators, but not because of his clout.
Interestingly enough, I think it is Evans who is far more likely to be missed. Though some able candidates have come forward to claim Evans’ mantel, it is not at all clear that any has his ability to convey not just humane values, but the vision of what our country should someday be if it is truly to serve as a beacon to the world (rather than a vaguely benevolent bully).
On the other hand, there is nothing Delay provided that cannot be duplicated by some other heavy-handed liberal-basher. I honestly don’t think his voice will be missed, even by those in his own political party.