Congressman Joe Barton (TX-6), dubbed “Smokey Joe” by environmental groups for his historic opposition to pollution limits and slavish devotion to the oil industry, is currently the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
He would love nothing more than to be the chairman of that powerful committee in January when Republicans return to the majority. Under Republican rules limiting how long a congressman can serve as the head of the same committee, however, Barton’s tenure is due to expire at the end of the current session.
Convinced that those rules should not apply to him, Barton is seeking a waiver to stay on as the top Republican and control the committee gavel. Most pundits and insiders expect that effort to fail, particularly since Barton embarrassed the party this summer with his infamous and clueless apology to oil giant BP.
Undaunted by the long odds, Barton is now taking the unusual step of launching a campaign-style attack against his fellow Republican Fred Upton (MI-6) who, based on seniority, is next in line to be the committee chairman.
According to Politico, the Texas Republican and his staff have been digging into Upton’s voting record in an attempt to show he is “not conservative enough” to chair the committee. On Monday, reporters got hold of an unsigned 22-page analysis of Upton’s record entitled: Fred Upton: Part-time Republican?
Of course, such character assassination has nothing to do with conservatism. It is simply about special interest politics and Barton’s personal thirst for power.
Barton has built a reputation as the oil and gas industry’s most steadfast and influential advocate in Congress—his campaign donations reflect this—and his ability to deliver will suffer greatly if he is not running the committee.
The Politico article quoted a House GOP staffer close to the committee as saying, “This has become his mission, to take out Fred Upton.”
Barton’s second best option, should his gavel gambit fall short, would be for a member of the committee very loyal to Barton to be chairman—someone that Barton could direct from behind the scenes. Perhaps someone like Barton’s pal John Shimkus (IL-19).
Barton and Shimkus often seem to be reading from the same playbook. During one set of hearings on climate change, Barton suggested that wind turbines would contribute to global warming by slowing down the wind, while Shimkus was equally concerned that reductions in power plant carbon emissions would doom the earth by robbing plants (the green type) of a vital food source.
Party leaders would be well-served to just say no to Joe, and to other power-seekers who have allegiances or extreme views that can reflect badly on the party as a whole.
The extreme anti-environmental agenda of Barton and then-Resources Committee chair Richard Pombo, along with the shameless pork-barreling of Transportation Committee chair Don Young, and the ethical lapses of other high-ranking Republicans were liabilities in 2006 that helped sweep the Democrats into power.
If Congressional Republicans want to avoid the same fate in 2012 or 2014, they would be well-served to place thoughtful, pragmatic, service-minded Republicans in positions of leadership who are unlikely to embarrass the party and make Democrats look more attractive to swing voters.
On Energy and Commerce, it would also be nice to have a chairman who can work with the entire committee to advance real solutions to our energy and environmental challenges.
It is not at all clear whether Upton would fit that bill, but there is no doubt that Barton or Shimkus would turn the panel into a stage where radicalism, scientific denial, and special interest politics are on grand display—exactly the type of embarrassing show that polluted the GOP brand four years ago.
Do John Boehner and company really want to lead with that as they work to solidify the GOP’s second chance with voters?