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Government and Politics


Northeast Ohio Congressman LaTourette reflects on congressional career
Doubts Washington gridlock will end soon
by WKSU's KEVIN NIEDERMIER


Reporter
Kevin Niedermier
 
Congressman Steve LaTourette announcing in July that he's not seeking reelection because of Washington's political gridlock.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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In The Region:
Lake County Congressman Steve LaTourette surprised a lot of people earlier this year by announcing he would not run for re-election. After 18-years in Washington the moderate Republican lawmaker said he became fed-up with the partisan gridlock. He’s now finishing out his last week on Capitol Hill. Earlier this month, WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier talked with LaTourette about his time in Congress, and about his future.
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Since first being elected in 1994, Congressman Steve LaTourette says the climate in Washington has gotten progressively worse. It’s no longer what he calls the vibrant two-party system where honest disagreements were worked out across the aisle.

“Now, people aren’t willing to find common ground on issues they disagree on as often as they used to if ever. And now it’s also become public sport to not only have the opposing party be an opponent, but we now have people in our own party shooting at us saying we’re not good enough Democrats or Republicans.  That’s why you’re seeing so many primaries for both parties. You’re sort of put to this litmus test, and I’ve got to tell you it wears you out.”

Being a moderate has never been easy

The moderate Republican has become known as a compromiser, something LaTourette says has never been easy considering the ideological breakdown of the G.O.P.’s 240 plus members of congress.

“One hundred and sixty of them belong to the Republican Study Committee which is the most conservative. That leaves 80, and of that 80 about 50 are in the group I belong to, the Republican Mainstream Partnership. So, I’m not meeting with a couple of people in a phone booth, but if you look at the numbers it’s a tough sled on some issues.  That’s not what caused me to leave, that’s always been a tough sled. The job is “representative” so I have to do what I think the people in my district want, not what someone in Texas wants. So that’s not the tough part, it’s this unwillingness of people to compromise on problems that need to be solved. For a newly elected member of Congress, I’d say you have to be true to yourself and your district, because at the end of the day if you don’t represent the district you won’t be reelected. It’s easy to get sucked in because advancement here is based partly on being a good, loyal solider and whether or not you’ve towed the party line, so there’s a lot of pressure to do that if you want a committee chairmanship or to be a ranking member. But if you can’t look in the mirror at the end of the day and say you didn’t do what your heart, head and constituents told you to do, then you shouldn’t be here.”

LaTourette went from prosecuting cult killers to congress

LaTourette is disappointed that the two sides haven’t been able to strike a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, even though he says he detected growing sentiment that compromise was needed to get fix the situation.The congressman serves on the powerful Appropriations committee, and on the Transportation, Interior, Environment and Housing and Urban Development subcommittees. He rode into congress in the 1994 Republican landslide started by Newt Gingrich. Before that he was Lake County’s prosecutor. There, he gained local and national attention convicting self-proclaimed prophet Jeffery Lundgren and his followers in the Kirtland cult killings. LaTourette believes that grisly trial helped start his congressional career.

“When Newt Gingrich in 1994 was casting around after putting together his Contract With America, and put the House in play by putting Republicans into the majority, I’m sure the publicity helped. A lot of people in Greater Cleveland got to know me through the handling of that case, and I don’t want to say I owe it to that, but I did gain some name recognition from it that might have gotten me through that first election. But since then you’re only as good as the last thing you’re done, and I’ve always tried to do my best.”

Going to congress was LaTourette’s first legislative experience. Before that, he says national politics were hardly on his radar, so, he went to Washington without any strong expectations of what the job would be like.

Came to Washington without strong expectations of what to expect

“I can admit it now, but I never even watched C-Span before coming to Washington. So it wasn’t something that was all consuming, so I suspect in that I’m more like most Americans than most members of Congress in that I was more worried about paying the bills and feeding the family. And I have to tell you there have been a lot of wonderful things that have happened to me here in 18 years, but at the end of the day it’s become a disappointing experience. I’ve put in place pieces of legislation that have been signed by Presidents Clinton and Bush, nothing yet with President Obama, but there’s still a little time. Those are laws dealing with credit unions and water quality and other things that I’m very proud of. I think as I leave my reputation, at least what I hear people saying, is that I’ve tried to work together with people regardless of party. And the staff that I’ve had has done a wonderful job helping thousands of constituents with passport, social security immigration and other problems, and I’m very proud of their work. After I leave Congress, my unpaid job is heading the Republican Mainstreet Partnership, which will help support members who want to reach compromises with Democrats on issue like the fiscal cliff.”

A lawyer by trade, LaTourette says he will likely get back into the legal field to earn a living. His wife and kids live in D.C., and he plans to stay there after leaving congress.   

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