Shadegg: 'It's my duty' to back leaders

Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) has always been an outspoken member of the Republican Conference, occasionally bucking leadership to vote his conservative conscience. But during his uncontested campaign to succeed outgoing Policy Committee Chairman Chris Cox (R-Calif.), Shadegg, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), promised his colleagues, especially those in leadership, that he would support the will of the conference above his own political principles.
Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) has always been an outspoken member of the Republican Conference, occasionally bucking leadership to vote his conservative conscience.

But during his uncontested campaign to succeed outgoing Policy Committee Chairman Chris Cox (R-Calif.), Shadegg, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), promised his colleagues, especially those in leadership, that he would support the will of the conference above his own political principles.
File photo
Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.)


“Once leadership has decided to do something, it’s my duty to support it,” the new Policy Committee chairman told The Hill. “I represent the full views of the conference.”

Balancing personal politics with the leadership agenda can be difficult for members with strong ideological beliefs who also hope to advance within the conference.

Shadegg defied leadership when he voted against the prescription-drug benefit and when he voted for a House bill to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from other countries. He and four Republican colleagues also clashed with Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) on an alternative version of the prescription-drug bill during the run-up to the vote. In addition, Shadegg backed Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) in the 2002 race for Republican Conference chairman over home-state colleague J.D. Hayworth and the current chairwoman, Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio).

But he has also made appeals to his conservative colleagues on behalf of leadership. In 2003, he wrote a letter urging reluctant members of the RSC — then called the Republican Study Group (RSG) — to back a supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq that did not require budget cuts to offset the increased costs.

Now, as the newest member of leadership, Shadegg said his pledge to support conference goals would not prevent him from speaking his mind behind closed doors as leadership works to build consensus on particular policy issues.

“On the plus side, I’m at the leadership meetings,” Shadegg said.

His predecessor said he believes Shadegg’s chairmanship of the conservative group will help, not hinder, his new role within the leadership.

“John’s experience as chairman of the RSC will make it easier to take up the responsibilities of leading the conference as policy chairman,” Cox said. Because RSC membership grew so much under Shadegg’s leadership — it increased from about 40 members to about 70 during his three-year reign — Cox said the Arizona congressman already knows what it means to manage all those competing agendas.

Current RSC Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said he is confident Shadegg will continue fighting for limited government in his new capacity and is grateful to have an ardent and vocal conservative in the leadership. Pence said Shadegg will keep leadership aware of the conservative agenda on every issue and should help prevent conservative defections on major votes like the one that occurred during the contentious prescription drug vote.

“John Shadegg is a force of nature,” Pence said. Later, discussing that forceful personality, Pence chuckled and said, “He don’t mumble.”

Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said in an e-mail: “As a spokesman for conservatives in the Conference, he not only advocated the majority position but knew how best to work through differences with the moderates in the Party.”

Shadegg was the front-runner to succeed Cox before the former chairman even declared he would be leaving the post, and he collected more than 130 signatures of support within days of circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing his candidacy.

Shadegg is only the second member of the historic class of 1994 to earn a leadership position — former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) was the first when he was elected conference chairman in 1998.

“It’s a great privilege to be a part of that class,” Shadegg said. “My election to leadership is the manifestation of the spirit of 1994.”

He said he sees the Policy Committee as the educational arm of the conference. He wants the committee to be a conduit for leadership and the various committee chairmen to explain policy to rank-and-file members and, in turn, a place for those rank-and-file members to ask questions of their leaders.

Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) is expected to host an upcoming Policy Committee meeting to explain the reconciliation process as he works to pass a House budget resolution.

Shadegg said he also wants to bring back “unity dinners,” which were created by former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) to foster interaction among House Republicans. Shadegg said he believes the dinners would be a good way for members to find common ground on potentially divisive issues within the conference, such as immigration reform.

Those dinners helped mend a rift between conservative and moderate members about arts funding during Shadegg’s early years in Washington, and he said he hopes that re-establishing the dinners will help keep members on the same page as the House works to pass major legislation, such as Social Security reform.

Given Shadegg’s conservative lineage, it is unlikely that he would ever relinquish those ideals; Shadegg’s father ran Barry Goldwater’s first Senate campaign, in 1952, an upset win over then-Majority Leader Ernest McFarland (D), and the congressman’s first trip to Washington was in 1964, when his dad was coordinating the Western states for Goldwater’s unsuccessful presidential campaign against Lyndon Johnson.

“I continue to believe in conservative ideology,” Shadegg said. “I have not philosophically changed, but the process [of governing] is an important part of how you get consensus.”