“Did you know Roger Zion died? What a guy!”
Since the former Republican U.S. Representative from Evansville, Indiana died on September 24 — one week after his 98th birthday — this reporter has heard that statement (or versions of it) repeatedly.
Inevitably, it was followed by a story of the good-natured, wise-cracking politician that just about everyone called “Roger” or “Rog” rather than “Congressman.”
What was impressive is that Zion was recalled so warmly by so many in Washington so long after he left office — in 1974, the so-called “Watergate Year” in which Republicans lost 49 House seats.
“Roger never took politics or himself too seriously,” James L. Martin, president of the SixtyPlus Seniors Association, said of Zion, who he recruited as honorary president of his association when the former congressman was 81.
Serving in Congress, Zion said, “is really rather nice if you can ignore all the negative letters and stories that keep popping up.”
He played gin rummy with close friend and fellow Republican Rep. Gene Snyder, R- Ky., faced Warren Buffet in bridge tournaments, competed in paddleball with fellow House “Class of ‘66” Members such as Democratic Sonny Montgomery, D- Miss., and Republican George H.W. Bush, R- Texas, and led sing-alongs at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club.
Zion also delighted his friends by writing poems about them — among them, by way of disclosure, this reporter on the occasion of his 30th birthday.
An Eagle Scout and president of his fraternity at the University of Wisconsin, the young Zion saw action in the Pacific as a U.S. Navy lieutenant. Following his discharge, he studied at Harvard Business School and then joined the pharmaceutical titan Mead Johnson and Company as a sales representative.
“Mead wanted to see more businessmen in Congress and urged me to run in 1964,” Zion once told me. He had risen to be director of training for the Johnson company and settled in Evansville, Indiana. Zion carried the Republican banner against seven-term Democratic Rep. Winfield K. Denton, but lost a close race.
Two years later, with campaign assistance from Richard Nixon, Zion turned the tables on Denton and was elected.
On January 5, 1967, the Zion family joined those of 53 other freshman Republicans —among them George W. Bush, onetime Olympic great Bob Mathias, R- Calif., and future Sen. Don Riegle, D-Mich.—to be sworn into office on the House floor.
“All of the kids were running around screaming to meet Bob Mathias, but those of us in Congress had someone else to deal with,” he said, referring to Harlem’s controversial Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, D-N.Y. Charged with misusing federal funds for trips and hiring his wife for a “no-show” job in his office, Powell faced denial of his seat in the first vote of the new Congress.
“My son Randy, who was 13, ran into Powell, who was prowling around on the floor,” said Zion, “He asked Randy ‘How does it look for me on the vote today, young man?’
“Randy replied: ‘Mr. Powell, I think you’re a dead duck.” (He was. The House voted later that day to exclude Powell; he eventually won a Supreme Court case that paved the way for him to take his seat two years later).
As a Member of the House Public Works Committee, Zion incurred the wrath of the environmentalists for his refusal to vote against strip mining and for his strong view that business and the environment should be treated equally.
“And after the Vietnam War, I wanted to get even with the dissidents who had given aid and comfort to our enemies,” Zion said, adding that Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark “got a lot of publicity decrying what they claimed were atrocities by our fighting men.”
As a Member of the House Internal Security Committee, Zion subpoenaed Fonda and Clark for a hearing on their comments during the Vietnam War. But Democrats who controlled the House, he noted, “abolished the committee” and thus thwarted him.
The left “owed” Zion for his pursuit of Fonda and Clark and poured money into Indiana’s 8th District to defeat him in 1974. So did the League of Conservation Voters, which listed the Hoosier Republican as one of the “Dirty Dozen” for his record on the environment. Zion lost to Democratic State Sen. Phil Hayes by 53 to 47 percent.
Hayes left the House after one term to run for the Senate. Zion passed on what many felt would have been an easy comeback race to the House. He was enjoying himself as head of his own lobbying firm, and still maintained his old hobbies of paddleball, gin rummy, and bridge.
Roger Zion was a politician who stood firmly on the principles of conservatism and the free market. But he was also one who knew how to see the humor in what he did, and make both colleagues in Congress and his many friends outside the Capitol a lot happier for knowing him.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.