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Remembering Ex-Rep. Joe Knollenberg — A Certainly Honorable Man

Image: Remembering Ex-Rep. Joe Knollenberg — A Certainly Honorable Man

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio File)

Sunday, 11 Feb 2018 05:46 PM Current | Bio | Archive

It was frequently said during Rep. Joe Knollenberg's 16 years as a U.S. representative (1992-2008) that the Michigan Republican "looked the part."

With his silver hair, half-moon glasses and "Dress for Success" business suits, Knollenberg could easily have been cast as "Rep. Champ Donahue" — portrayed by Van Heflin in Rod Serling's epic 1968 television drama on Congress entitled "Certain Honorable Men."

When Knollenberg died last week at age 84 following a long bout with Alzheimer's disease, it was his gentlemanly demeanor as much as his appearance that was recalled by colleagues and reporters who covered him.

"Joe was an all-around good guy," Ambassador and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., told Newsmax during Knollenberg's final years. Hoekstra, now ambassador to the Netherlands, remembered his fellow Water Wonderland Republican "casting some votes that were bound to be controversial, but doing so without rancor or making the debate in any way personal."

But that didn't mean Knollenberg faced consequences for some of the positions he took.

As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, the Oakland County insurance man carried considerable water for the reduced-spending agenda of the House Republican majority and later of President George W. Bush.

Knollenberg opposed, for example, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that was such a priority for the teachers' unions and others in organized labor.

He also was an unabashed free trader and champion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — again, not a position with which to endear Knollenberg to organized labor.

Such positions would almost surely not hurt Knollenberg when his district was primarily based in Oakland County. But following redistricting in 2001, the district gained swatches of Democratic turf and Knollenberg found himself under strong fire.

In '06, he staved off his toughest-ever general election challenge with 52 percent of the vote. Two years later, with Barack Obama leading the Democratic ticket to a sweep of the Democratic portions of the district, Knollenberg lost to Democrat Gary Peters (now U.S. senator).

Beaten but undaunted, Knollenberg and wife Sandi returned to Oakland County and put their energies behind the political ambitions of son Marty. He is now a Michigan state senator.

Born in Mattoon, Illinois, Knollenberg graduated from Eastern Illinois University and then served in the U.S. Army in West Germany. Following his discharge in 1957, he settled in Oakland County and went to work for New York Life Insurance. Eventually, he formed his own company and became active in local Republican politics as GOP county chairman from 1978-82.

"What I remember most about Joe was his co-chairing Oakland County for [George H.W.] Bush in 1980," said former State Rep. Colleen House, field director for Bush in his all-important primary with Ronald Reagan. "We were putting emphasis on the primaries where Gerald Ford had done best against Reagan [in the 1976 primary] and Joe sure had the volunteers revved up and working."

Ron Kaufman, a top operative in Bush's national headquarters agreed, noting, "When I came in to Oakland before the primary, I saw the organization Joe had lined up and I knew we were going to win."

They did. Bush beat front-runner Reagan in Michigan by a margin of 2-to-1. His win kept his candidacy alive until the convention, where Reagan tapped him as his running mate.

In 1992, when Rep. William Broomfield, R-Mich., announced his retirement from the seat he had held for 36 years, the smart money in Oakland County said that State Sen. David Honigman was the heir apparent for the Republican nomination.

But the "smart money" had not reckoned with Michigan Right-to-Life, which gave its strong endorsement to pro-life candidate Knollenberg over pro-choice Republicans Honigman and Circuit Court Judge Alice Gilbert.

And the "smart money" had not reckoned with Knollenberg himself, whose years of volunteer work as county party leader and Bush campaign chairman won him legions of supporters. He won the three-candidate race handily.

At a time when members of Congress are held in "minimum high regard" by the public, a huge crowd in Oakland County turned out last week to bid farewell to former Rep. Knollenberg — a certainly honorable man.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2018 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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It was frequently said during Rep. Joe Knollenberg's 16 years as a U.S. representative (1992-2008) that the Michigan Republican "looked the part."With his silver hair, half-moon glasses and "Dress for Success" business suits, Knollenberg could easily have been cast as "Rep....
ex-rep. joe knollenberg, a certainly honorable man
Sunday, 11 Feb 2018 05:46 PM
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