Tags: railsback | nixon | impeachment | reagan | trump | bush

Remembering Ex-Rep. Tom Railsback, a Moderate Conservatives Called 'a Good Guy'

tom railsback whispters in the ear of peter rodino during the nixon impeachment hearings
Rep. Tom Railsback, R-Ill., right, confers with chairman Peter Rodino, D-N.J., during the House Judiciary Committee's debate on impeachment articles in Washington, D.C., July 27, 1974. (AP Photo)

Sunday, 26 January 2020 07:50 AM Current | Bio | Archive

What was surprising about news of the death of former eight-term Rep. Tom Railsback, R-Ill., last week was the complete lack of bitterness toward the lawmaker who moved from right to center and then broke party ranks to support articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974.

"A lot of us felt he betrayed the Republican Party and us with that vote on Nixon — including me," recalled fellow Illinoisan Terry Campo, a onetime Young Republicans national chairman who backed Ronald Reagan over Gerald Ford for president in 1976.

"But even as he became more moderate by our standards," Campo quickly added, "'Rails' — that's what we all called him — was always a good guy."

With his love of jokes, his willingness to join in singalongs at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. after a few "cold ones," and his signature high-pitched laugh, Railsback — who died on Jan. 20 at age 87 — was hard to dislike.

Campo recalled helping on Railsback's stiff re-election battle in 1974. As downstate chairman of the National Teen Age Republicans, Campo warmed up a rally for the congressman in Schuyler County, Illinois, that featured Republican National Committee co-chair Mary Louise Smith and national chair George H.W. Bush.

"And 'Rails' introduced me to Bush!" exclaimed Campo.

"Tom was a mentor to me and many others," Ray LaHood, Railsback's onetime district director, told Newsmax. LaHood, who went on to become a Republican member of the House from Illinois and later secretary of the Department of Transportation, recalled Railsback's first race for Congress in 1966 and his early days in Washington.

A U.S. Army veteran and graduate of the Northwestern University of Law, Railsback was a two-term state representative from Moline when he decided to take on freshman Rep. Gale Schisler, D-Ill.

The schoolteacher and political neophyte Schisler had come out of nowhere in 1964 and, riding President Lyndon Johnson's long coattails, he upset Republican Rep. Robert McLoskey.

Schisler voted down the line for LBJ's "Great Society" agenda, which Railsback opposed. Railsback emerged triumphant in a race he always liked to remember as one in which the candidates were friendly to one another and launched no negative attacks.

Railsback was typical of the big class of Republicans elected to the House in 1966. He opposed LBJ's spending measures, supported a go-out-to-win-or-get-out policy in Vietnam, and voted not to seat controversial Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, D.-N.Y., on charges of misusing his office.

Railsback clearly grew more moderate as time went on. But sometimes he reverted to his conservative roots with a voting record that veteran Illinois conservative activist Jameson Campaigne dubbed "dizzying."

Rated 24% by the American Conservative Union in 1971, Railsback's score with the same group rose to 67% in 1972. In 1981, his ACU score was up to 79% but dropped to 28% a year later.

Among the non-conservative votes he cast were to increase spending on House committees, to override Reagan's veto of supplementary appropriations in 1982, and against banning the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring vehicle emissions standards in all the states.

"Tom was elected as a conservative," LaHood said, "but he moved to the middle on several issues and that offended some Republicans."

His "15 minutes of fame" came in 1974. Incensed at the White House's refusal to turn over records to Congress, the Illinoisan warned, "if the Congress doesn't get the material we think we need and then votes to exonerate, we'll be regarded as a paper tiger."

Railsback then worked with House Democrats to craft an article of impeachment that charged Nixon with obstructing the Watergate investigation. Six Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted for it.

In 1981, Railsback embraced the cause of regulatory campaign reform with which Sen. John McCain would later become identified. With then-Rep. Dave Obey, D.-Wis., he co-sponsored legislation that would have essentially outlawed political action committees. Conservative PACs and some in the business community geared up to take Railsback out in the 1982 primary.

They succeeded. In a major upset, conservative State Sen. Ken McMillan defeated the veteran incumbent. But McMillan was also assisted by the redistricting. The Democrat-controlled state legislature packed the district Railsback represented with new counties in which he was unknown.

Campo, LaHood, and Railsback himself agreed that, among some Republicans, there was lingering distaste for the congressman's vote for articles of impeachment against Nixon in 1974, and this helped defeat him.

Railsback then practiced law in Washington, D.C. Shortly before Railsback's death, Campo was just one of many who had their ups and downs with him but who stayed in touch with him through email.

To no one's surprise, Campo told us, "we discussed the Trump impeachment."

Whatever differences they may have had with Tom Railsback, those who knew him well recalled him warmly. LaHood spoke for them all in saying, "He was a wonderful friend."

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

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What was surprising about news of the death of former eight-term Rep. Tom Railsback, R-Ill., last week was the complete lack of bitterness toward the lawmaker who moved from right to center and then broke party ranks to support articles of impeachment against President...
railsback, nixon, impeachment, reagan, trump, bush
Sunday, 26 January 2020 07:50 AM
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