Politics & Policy

A Full & Open Housecleaning

The election of the House Republican leadership should not, and can not, be a popularity contest determined before the debate has begun.

The United States House of Representatives has been led by a Republican majority for more than a decade. Under that leadership the House has strengthened the economy, reduced taxes, and worked to secure the safety of future generations of Americans. Under our leadership the United States has prospered. On five consecutive election days the American people have placed their faith in our ability to represent them with integrity, but current events have challenged that faith. The Republican Conference must immediately take the steps necessary to restore the trust of the American public.

I believe the most significant step toward reforming the current atmosphere in the House will be taken on February 2, when the Republican Conference convenes to hold leadership elections. I also believe that reform must be complete and comprehensive. For this reason, I have proposed that all seven positions within the Conference leadership stand for election when the Conference convenes to choose a majority leader and policy-committee chairman. My proposal is not directed at any one member of the current leadership or intended to provide an opening for any other member of Congress. If any member of the current leadership seeks and achieves reelection, they will certainly receive the full support of the Conference. But it would be indefensible for the Conference to shrink from the opportunity to address the issues we face and to perform the due diligence the men and women we represent expect and demand. Through denial and apathy we have allowed the corruption and deceit of the few to obscure the dedication and integrity of the many, and we must now act accordingly to restore the faith of the American people.

While visiting with constituents in my district this past week, I was asked repeatedly what we were doing about this “Abramoff mess.” When I return to the district, I want to have an answer. I want to be able to look my constituents in the eye and tell them I asked our leaders the questions necessary to guarantee that each one was the right person for the job. We must ask them what their vision is for the future of the House and the nation; how they plan to reform the abuse of earmarks; how they will work to restore the faith of the American people; and, most importantly, we must closely examine any questionable involvement a member may have had with Jack Abramoff. We must ensure we are not facing another such crisis in July.

Those questions can only be answered once the Conference has had the opportunity to closely examine the vision, integrity, and merit of each member vying for a leadership position. Only after we have shed light on the election process, the candidates themselves, and their staffs, will we be able to move out from behind the shadow of scandal and doubt. An unwillingness or inability to address the issues of corruption and ethics violations will only reinforce the rising fear of many Americans that their trust in us has been misplaced. Such inaction would be intolerable to the public and should be unacceptable to us. We have to be able to tell the American people that we fixed the problem.

The choice between several qualified candidates for majority leader will have a significant impact on the agenda of Congress in the months and years to come. It is the process by which our leadership is elected, however, that will have the largest impact on the American people. We are not choosing a class president or the grand marshal at the Rose Bowl Parade. The election of the Conference leadership should not, and cannot, be a popularity contest determined before the debate has begun.

The coronation of a majority leader will not serve the best interests of the party, the Congress, or the public. We owe them more than empty rhetoric, predetermined support and sterilized nomination speeches. We owe them the benefits of an open debate on the merits of each candidate and their vision for the future. We owe them a thorough and thoughtful review of our current leadership and a commitment to act in the best interest of the country. The validity of our choice and the transparency of the process will be the first step toward real reform.

It is essential for the continued prosperity and security of the American people that we take the steps necessary to remove any question of our integrity or the integrity of the political process. The coming elections should reflect our commitment toward restoring their confidence in us. We must be unequivocal in our actions, and our message to the American people must be clear. Your faith in us has not been misplaced.

Dan Lungren is a Republican member of the House of Representatives from California.

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