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The restive House Republican freshman class got an early sign of the depth of institutional knowledge possessed by Rep. Steven LaTourette.
“So, you 87 new folks who’ve gotten here,” the nine-term Ohio Republican recalled addressing the GOP Conference in January, “how many of you know what a limited tariff bill is?”
At issue was a proposal to ban earmarks — federal spending directed at individual projects. LaTourette, a longtime ally of transportation funding, opposed the ban. But he also argued that without defining “earmark,” the new rule would have big implications for tax and tariff bills.
Only one hand went up, in the front row: North Carolina Rep. Sue Myrick, who was elected in 1994. “I felt like I was in the movie ‘My Cousin Vinny.’ ‘This time the freshmen and only the freshmen,’” LaTourette said.
“The point was that here you have this new group of people running around the country saying, ‘Read the bill! Read the bill! Read the bill!’ and we’re about to cast a vote to eliminate things that they didn’t quite yet have a good handle on,” he said.
The push to narrow the definition of “earmark,” which failed, fell in line with LaTourette’s record as one of the more liberal members of the GOP Conference.
The Ohio Republican is considered — along with New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo — the top GOP ally of organized labor in the House. He is one of a few Republicans who continue to vote against free-trade agreements, and he has also strayed from the party line on the environment and other issues.
But LaTourette has carved out a role near the top of the House GOP’s pecking order. He is a close ally of Speaker John Boehner and is popular with colleagues.
Now, with Ohio’s proposed new Congressional map, LaTourette represents the most competitive GOP district in his state, meaning he might need to be even more mindful of how his constituents receive the GOP’s hard line on spending, taxes and other issues.
“Even if you disagree with him, you know that he really believes it,” said freshman Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), who was assigned LaTourette as a mentor when he came to Washington in January.
“LaTourette kind of doesn’t play the game — you know you’re dealing with the most honest broker in town,” said Sam Geduldig, a lobbyist and former aide to Boehner.
“He speaks with authority,” Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said. “When he’s giving an analysis, people know he’s smart, he’s thorough, he’s well-informed.”
On the House floor during votes, “people come to him,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a close friend of LaTourette’s. “People from both sides of the aisle often line up to talk to him because they value his insight.”