“Second Verse Same as the First Verse”
The top three GOP leadership positions for the 106th Congress – regardless of who is elected Wednesday – will be made up of House members who each scored 100 percent on the Christian Coalition’s most recent scorecard and have extensive ties to Religious Right leaders and organizations, a People For the American Way Foundation analysis has determined.
Although media reports have painted two candidates – Rep. Bob Livingston and Rep. Jennifer Dunn – as pragmatists, a look at their voting records and affiliations with Religious Right groups shows they are far from moderate. Two other candidates who are challenging incumbents for party leadership posts – Rep. Steve Largent and Rep. J.C. Watts, both of Oklahoma – are ideologically inseparable from the Religious Right political movement.
“For the past four years, the House Republican leadership has veered sharply to the right, launching attacks on our public schools, on women and minorities and on the U.S. Constitution,” said PFAWF President Carole Shields. “Now the 106th Congress promises us a second verse, same as the first. The majority of voters elected moderate politicians of both parties and said Congress should move on to issues that really matter. But the party’s new leadership is still in lockstep with the most extreme wing of the GOP.”
Here’s a look at some of the GOP leadership races to be decided Wednesday and the record of the challengers:
HOUSE SPEAKER: Rep. Bob Livingston earned a 100 percent rating on the Christian Coalition’s latest scorecard, has served on the board of advisors to Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress PAC; and was endorsed in the Speaker’s race by David Keene of the American Conservative Union.
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Like the incumbent, Rep. Dick Armey (TX), Rep. Dunn (WA) and Rep. Largent (OK) each received 100 percent ratings in the latest Christian Coalition scorecard (for Dunn, this was an increase over her earlier rating of 83). Dunn received the highest American Conservative Union rating of any member of the House leadership last year, and has served on the Congressional Advisory Board of the Leadership Institute, a conservative entity headed by Morton Blackwell that trains and places conservatives in media and in government. While some Religious Right activists distrust Dunn because she opposes a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, Dunn’s background suggests she is a conservative dressed in a moderate’s clothing. “I have always been a proponent of softening our rhetoric,” she once said. “I believe we can pursue the same positions we have been, but we don’t need to be so harsh and scary about it.”
Largent’s ties to the Religious Right are as extensive as any candidate for a House leadership position. He has served on the boards of the Christian Film and Television Commission, Oklahomans for Children and Families, and the Madison Project, a PAC operated by Religious Right leader Mike Farris.
In addition, Largent has served as one of the national leaders of the so-called “parental rights” movement, an initiative that would make it more difficult to investigate child abuse cases and increase the power of the Religious Right to interfere with public school curriculum.
Largent recently sent letters of support to Reggie White, the controversial spokesman for the Family Research Council, and has spoken out strongly against gays and lesbians. “When you get to the facts that homosexual sex between men is an unhealthy lifestyle – totally unhealthy lifestyle – and that it’s unnatural… I do believe it’s an issue much like abortion where I don’t think there’s a middle ground,” Largent said on the Lehrer News Hour this past July.
REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIRMAN: Both incumbent Rep. John Boehner (OH) and challenger Rep. J.C. Watts (OK) earned 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition, although one might argue that Watts is more of the Religious Right’s darling. Watts was a speaker at this year’s Christian Coalition “Road to Victory” Conference, and has spoken for each of the past two years at CEO America’s pro-voucher conference. Watts also is one of the chief House sponsors of voucher legislation that would divert money from public education to private and religious schools.