Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Obey Retires

Wisconsin's Obey Retires: the Iowa angle

A surprise shuffle on Capitol Hill as House Appropriations Chair Dave Obey (D-WI) retires after 21 (!) terms spanning six different decades.

The Iowa angle here: Obey is the fellow who crushed Des Moines Congressman Neal Smith's dream of chairing Appropriations (unofficial full name: the Powerful House Appropriations Committee, always with the Powerful modifier).

Chairing Appropriations is a lot like getting Green Bay Packers season tickets: you have to wait 40 years and someone has to die. That happened in 1994 when chair William Natcher of Kentucky (best known for never missing a roll call in 40 years) died. Smith took over for a few interim weeks. But when the House Democratic Caucus voted on a permanent chair, Obey beat Smith and took the gavel.

It's not uncommon for people who lose leadership fights like that to quietly retire, but Smith never got the chance. The House caucus vote was after Iowa's filing deadline, and Smith was a surprise victim of the 1994 GOP landslide as Greg Ganske drove the 1958 Studebaker DeSoto (representing the year Smith was first elected) to victory.

The 1994 wave also meant Obey, too, lost the Appropriations chair. He had to wait 12 years, until the Democrats regained control of the House in 2006, to get it back.

Obey was also, briefly, my congressman back in the grad school days. I remember the buttons said OBEY! in all caps with exclamation, as if commanding you. (It's pronounced O-bee, not o-BAY.) His district is the northwest and central part of the state, and covers my ancestor's homeland on the Lake Superior shoreline. Should be a hot race.

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