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Was Steven LaTourette About to Be Left Out in the Cold?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Rep. Steven LaTourette’s sudden decision not to run for re-election in November centers around a reported dispute over future committee assignments, which, if true, shows a breakdown in relations between the nine-term Ohio Republican and House GOP leaders, led by his close ally and fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner.

LaTourette joined the Appropriations Committee after the 2008 elections with then-Minority Leader Boehner’s strong encouragement — after the retirement that year of Reps. Ralph Regula and Dave Hobson, two veteran Ohio Republicans with long tenures on the committee. Each had chaired influential subcommittees: Labor, Health and Human Services and Education for Regula and Energy and Water Development for Hobson.

As the most senior surviving Republican in the Ohio delegation, LaTourette’s decision to join the panel was a vital liaison for Boehner, who has long had a rocky relationship with appropriators.

But the move was also a personal sacrifice for LaTourette, who was first elected in 1994 and had been a senior Republican on the Financial Services and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. With the term limits of the current chairmen at each panel after this Congress, he would have been poised to make a bid for chairman at either committee. The putative chairman at the Transportation panel, Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, is a half-dozen years junior to LaTourette in experience.

At Appropriations, where the power rests with the subcommittee chairmen, known as cardinals, the senior GOP post at the Labor-HHS panel will be open after this year’s elections. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) is running for Senate.

LaTourette, who is one of labor’s closest allies in the Republican Conference — and a lawmaker with a long interest in bipartisanship, as well as a loyal lieutenant to Boehner — might have viewed himself as an ideal chairman at Labor-HHS.

Rehberg is the most junior subcommittee chairman among the Republican appropriators. So all of the GOP members senior to him passed up that position — and its many controversies — before Rehberg took it after the 2010 elections.

Four other GOP appropriators are senior to LaTourette on the committee, which could leave them better positioned to take the vacant subcommittee chairmanship. But three of them were first elected to the House in 2002, eight years later than LaTourette. They are Reps. John Carter (Texas), Rodney Alexander (La.) and Jo Bonner (Ala.).

The fourth is Rep. Ken Calvert (Calif.), who was first elected to the House in 1992 and had been a senior member of the Natural Resources and Science, Space and Technology committees before joining Appropriations in 2007. But Calvert has been a low-profile member of the GOP Conference.

A spokesman for LaTourette declined to comment and referred to a press conference the Congressman is holding Tuesday in his district. A spokesman for Boehner declined to comment until LaTourette’s official annoucement.

Rep. Steve Austria is the other Ohio Republican who serves on Appropriations. Ironically, his seat was eliminated by redistricting, and Austria, who was a protégé of Hobson, decided not to seek re-election.

Although his district has been based in central Ohio, it would have been possible for the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw the map in a way that would have saved Austria’s seat and eliminated LaTourette’s swing district in the northeast corner.

The news of LaTourette’s decision to not seek re-election was first reported by the Columbus Dispatch.

LaTourette is expected to make his retirement announcement 10 a.m. Tuesday at a press conference at his district office in Painsville. A GOP source said the Congressman will have the option to not submit his official letter of retirement to Ohio’s governor until after Aug. 8. That would avoid having another primary and allow the GOP replacement nominee to be chosen by a group of party officials from each county in the district.

LaTourette’s reconfigured 14th district leans slightly Republican, and the seat could be in play this fall depending on the strength of the candidate who replaces him on the ballot. Ohio’s primary was in March, and therefore, party nominees have already been set. The Democratic nominee in the district is Dale Blanchard, who does not appear to have filed with the Federal Election Commission. Joshua Miller, Daniel Newhauser and Jonathan Strong contributed to this report.

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