Washington Metro News

Speaker Boehner did not speak for DC

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it best: “We did what we should be doing, sitting down and talking through our differences.” He was referring to the budget deal which would mean that the United States government would not go into default and not shut down. This bipartisan agreement was the living, breathing definition of what the word “compromise” means.

{mosads}Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) acted like a statesman. This has not always been the moniker I used to describe his role, but in his last official duty, he did his duty. He did what was necessary so that government could function. That is the primary and essential obligation and responsibility of a leader. It is probably a good time, since Boehner is leaving, to look at his record.

It has been my habit to give a glimpse into the persona of some of these people through my own limited interactions with them. So please allow me the opportunity to do just that. These conversations — or lack of communication, with Boehner — are in some way I hope informative, if not enlightening.

Way back in 2009, I asked him his position on giving the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives. Former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R) had formulated a deal by which the House would be enlarged to 437 members and D.C. would get a House seat for the very first time and Utah would get an additional seat. Davis believed that D.C. deserved a modicum of democracy and his deal would accomplish that. (There would be no Senate seats.)

I directly asked Boehner his view on the proposal. I remember him looking down at his shoes and mumbling something. I asked him to repeat what he had just said and the answer was incomprehensible. Verbal murkiness was his tactic that day.

In the budget deal just struck, The New York Times reports that there is a provision that provides for the small rotunda outside the Speaker’s office be named the “Freedom Foyer.” Included in that space would be a bust of the late Czech President Vaclav Havel. I think it’s wonderful that a champion of democracy will be honored. Although obviously, Boehner believes that democracy is fine for the Czech Republic, but not the capital of his own country.

The next exchange I had with Boehner was over the District getting a statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall (D.C. had no such representation). I once again approached Boehner (this time outside the Capitol building). His zealous aides sought to impede my questioning, but Boehner waved them aside. He professed ignorance of the entire subject and briskly walked away. But a few years later, he had become a believer in the concept. He went so far as to sponsor a huge event celebrating the occasion.

A magnificent statue was created by sculptor Steven Weitzman and the event took place in the Capitol Visitor Center. But prior to the glorious event, Boehner sought to exclude most of the D.C. population that most wanted to attend. The 323 elected officials who were Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners were not invited. (The Visitor Center is more than large enough to accommodate them.) I went to Boehner’s weekly press conference. I was sitting in the front row. He answered every other question asked of him, but he refused to take mine. (I had previously brought up this issue repeatedly on, of all places, Fox local TV.) Finally, fed up with evading the question, he stalked off the stage. I thought to myself, what an insecure individual. He didn’t have the confidence to defend his actions.

One of Boehner’s last legislative victories was imposing vouchers on the D.C. school system. The District of Columbia had not asked for them, but Boehner was insistent on inflicting vouchers on Washington. He said that it was “personal” and called the recipients “his kids.” “His kids” are the very same kids he doesn’t want to grow up and become members of the U.S. House or the Senate.

Give credit where credit is due — Boehner’s last official act should be admired and praised. But when it comes to this place — Washington, D.C. — he has treated the citizens with contempt and arrogance. Boehner’s gone; I’m not shedding a tear.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

Tags D.C. DC District of Columbia John Boehner School voucher Washington

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