Tags: Rep. John Myers | Indiana | died | GOP | Republican | Congress | Mr. Nice Guy

Recalling Late John Myers of Indiana, Congress' 'Mr. Nice Guy'

By    |   Thursday, 29 January 2015 11:23 PM

Following the news on Tuesday that former Rep. John T. Myers died, the immediate reminiscences were not about the Indiana Republican’s conservative record during three decades in Congress nor about his unyielding opposition to raising taxes.

Instead, the seemingly endless good nature of Myers, who died at age 87, was remembered without hesitation by former colleagues as well as staffers, with whom the senior member of the House Appropriations Committee unfailingly found time to chat.

"I recall Congressman Myers with warmth and respect," James L. Martin, top aide to stalwart conservative Rep. Edward J. Gurney, R-Fla., in the 1960s and now head of the Sixty Plus Seniors Association. "He and Ed Gurney voted almost exactly alike and when Ed talked about his colleagues from Indiana, he always singled out [fellow GOP Rep.] Roger Zion and John Myers as his two favorites."

Former Rep. Ben Blackburn, R-Ga., a fellow conservative who came to Congress with Myers in 1966, told Newsmax, "John was a very nice guy who never made enemies, unlike Newt Gingrich, who made enemies of anyone who met him.

Michigan's Don Riegle, a liberal Republican in the same class (who later became a Democrat and served in the Senate), agreed.

As he told Newsmax, "John disagreed with me on some things, but we got along very well. Things were different in those days — we were Republicans who wanted good government. John and I were on the Republican basketball team in the House and, as I recall, we beat the Democrats."

During 30 years in Congress, the Hoosier lawmaker proudly never voted for a tax increase. Moreover, he was the author of the Myers Amendment to cut off funding for President Jimmy Carter’s amnesty for Vietnam-era draft evaders in 1977.

But, as Washington lobbyist and onetime Myers staffer John Palatiello recalled, "John always abided by the adage to 'disagree without being disagreeable.'"

"John’s closest Democratic colleague was [Alabama Rep.] Tom Bevill, who was chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. They were true friends and always worked on their annual Appropriations bill together."

It was said in 1989 that there was a collective sigh of relief throughout the House when the good-natured Hoosier was ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee.

Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright was under investigation for suspiciously acquiring outside income through writing books that did not seem to be genuine. Myers became a key figure in the resulting investigation, which led to a unanimous decision by the committee that the speaker had violated ethics rules, and Wright’s subsequent resignation.

A graduate of Indiana State University who served in the U.S. Army from 1945-46, Myers began as a cashier with the Fountain Trust Company and quickly rose up its corporate ranks. He also had a farm in Fountain County and was a leader in the local Young Republican Club.

When the Indiana Legislature was forced to redraw the state’s U.S. House districts in 1965 to conform to the Supreme Court's "one man, one vote" decision, a new district was created.

In the six-candidate Republican primary the following year, the smart money was on two "superstars" from the sports world: Tom Mont, winning football coach at DePauw University and onetime Washington Redskins quarterback, and Gerald Landis, former Republican U.S. Rep. (1938-48) from a neighboring district and himself a former football star at Indiana State.

But Myers, who had never held elective office and whose college sport was basketball, outran the gridiron greats. With the large network of friends he had made in his Young Republican Club, his seemingly tireless energy and effervescent personality ("Hi, I’m John Myers and I sure hope you’ll vote for me"), the first-time office-seeker topped the field of six in the primary.

(Running far behind in the contest was a young dentist named Dan Crane who, 12 years later, would join older brother Phil as a Republican congressman from neighboring Illinois.)

Although the new 7th District was drawn with more Democratic voters than Republicans, Myers was unstoppable that November. Running as an opponent of Lyndon Johnson’s big-spending "Great Society" and supporting victory in Vietnam, Myers rolled up 54 percent of the vote against Democratic state Sen. Elden Tipton.

With re-elections always a slam dunk, Myers rose to become one of the senior Republicans on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee. But when Republicans won control of the House in 1994, incoming Speaker Gingrich passed over him (and three other senior Republicans) to award the gavel to Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., a close ally. Two years later, Myers retired to his home in Covington, Indiana.

Former staffer Palatiello may have summed up his old boss best. Myers, he told Newsmax, "insisted on being called 'John' and not 'Congressman' and we always answered the phone 'John Myers' office.' That's how he was. No putting on airs, no pretentiousness.

"When he was at an event with community leaders in his district, he would go back into the kitchen to say hello and thank everyone, and since he was 'the Kissing Congressman,' give a kiss to all the ladies preparing dinner. He really showed us how to respect every human being."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Following the news on Tuesday that former Rep. John T. Myers died, the immediate reminiscences were not about the Indiana Republican's conservative record during three decades in Congress nor about his unyielding opposition to raising taxes.
Rep. John Myers, Indiana, died, GOP, Republican, Congress, Mr. Nice Guy
Thursday, 29 January 2015 11:23 PM
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