Date: Sat Nov 26 1994 20:03:56
Subj: Bob Michel Stmt.
Bob Michel makes parting warnings
By Mitchell Locin and Elaine S. Povich
Tribune Staff Writers
Copyright Chicago Tribune (c) 1994
WASHINGTON--Republicans campaigned on a defective "Contract with America" that
might plunge the country deeper into debt and are grabbing power with an
enthusiasm that threatens to corrupt incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich,
retiring House GOP leader Robert Michel warned.
The Illinois Republican said that the tax cuts and lack of spending reductions
in the contract do not add up to the balanced budget that the contract lists as
its top priority.
Having languished for nearly four decades in the minority in the House, Michel
decided not to seek re-election this year, only to see the GOP seize power.
Breaking the silence he has maintained since the Nov. 8 election, Michel
admitted that the results, brought about by negative campaigning he found
distasteful, left him with mixed emotions.
The Peorian was disappointed that fate had robbed him of the top job and
worried about the potential for arrogance among the new House Republican
"I kidded Ray (LaHood, Michel's top aide who won his Peoria seat), about being
in the majority party as a freshman," Michel said.
While applauding Republican success in ending 40 years of Democratic dominance
over the House, Michel made clear during a lengthy interview that he was
dismayed with how it was accomplished and differed with Gingrich's style in
implementing GOP rule.
Michel lamented Gingrich's decision to concentrate power in the speaker's
office and his moves to install committee chairmen to his liking, partly
scrapping the seniority system.
"That brings a lot more power up here to the leader," Michel said. "Newt knows
what he's doing. I didn't crave power when I was leader, I don't know if it
would have changed if I were speaker. I just hope it doesn't go to our newly
elected leaders' heads."
"There's always a danger in clawing at power because power corrupts and
absolute power corrupts absolutely," he added.
Gingrich's spokesman Tony Blankley said the leadership formula in the past was
"well designed for a minority party. It's our sense that the members are
encouraging us to design a structure that will allow us to succeed as a
"No one need worry about us violating Lord Acton's proposition," he said,
citing the author of the "power corrupts" axiom.
Michel said he didn't "have to claw my way up the ladder" to become minority
leader in 1981 but progressed through the seniority system by "just being a
But as Gingrich and his fellow firebrand conservatives rose to prominence in
the House in recent years, Michel was forced to be more partisan and
strident--although it went against his nature.
Though Michel didn't discuss it, other Illinois Republicans have suggested that
Gingrich essentially forced Michel's decision to retire under the threat of a
possible insurgent challenge to the GOP leader of 14 years. Some party
strategists believed, however, that Michel's cooperative style made him part of
the Washington establishment and never would have resulted in the Republican
mandate this year.
Michel, nevertheless, held several pre-election conversations with Gingrich
about the leadership, pointing out the problems and pitfalls of being the
party's chief spokesman and possible speaker. Michel acknowledged he is more
easy-going than Gingrich and that the cocky Georgian's more assertive style may
have been necessary for the Republicans to succeed this year.
"Newt really wants to change a lot of things, probably more than I would have,"
Michel said. "I had a penchant for sticking with the seniority system. ...
That's part of the difference between Newt and me. I'm just very, very
sensitive to people's feelings and what they put into the system."
He described Gingrich as being "more of theoretician than he is a
parliamentarian," which suited Gingrich fine when he was an outsider throwing
broadsides at Democrats but perhaps no longer when he becomes the speaker,
responsible for running the House and second in line to succeed the president.
Michel said he didn't expect Democrats "to take this thing lying down," and he
admonished his fellow Republicans: "Overplaying your hand in the majority can
lend itself to the minority in justifying itself in really sticking it to you."
Michel said Gingrich tends to have too many balls in the air at any one time.
"If there's another weakness of Newt, it's follow-up," said Michel, sitting in
the office, into which Gingrich plans to move, that has a spectacular view of
Gingrich will have to work to keep the new GOP majority together, because there
will be only about 25 more Republicans than Democrats.