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Talk Of `Tossing The Bums Out' May Be More Than Just Talk


Washington Outlook

TALK OF `TOSSING THE BUMS OUT' MAY BE MORE THAN JUST TALK

During seven terms representing western Maryland's sixth congressional district, Beverly B. Byron rarely drew much attention. But on Mar. 3, she made the House take notice -- by losing a Democratic primary to a little-known state legislator. The key to the upset: relentless attacks on Byron's votes for pay raises and her foreign junkets.

Byron's loss helps explain why so many lawmakers, especially Democrats, are taking talk of "tossing the bums out" seriously this year. The advantages of incumbency are potent: In the last three elections, more than 96% of members seeking reelection have won. But with voters angry and with reapportionment forcing many incumbents to run in new districts, this year could be different. Analysts predict the election of up to 100 fresh faces, a development that would shatter the cozy relationships between lobbyists -- especially business interests -- and members. "This could be the most interesting congressional election since 1974," in the wake of Watergate, says Carleton College political scientist Steven E. Schier. "We're going to have a big shakeup here."

OVER-DRAFTY. The barons of Capitol Hill have good reason to run scared. The House is embroiled in a nasty fight over release of the names of members who wrote rubber checks on the House bank. Republicans want full disclosure, while the Democratic leadership wants to finger only a handful of flagrant violators. Junior Republicans want to use the scandal to attack entrenched power in the House, even if they zing some senior GOP members in the process. "The Democrats have run this place for four decades now," says first-term Representative Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). "They think they're princes and can do whatever the heck they want."

Faced with a budding populist revolt, some legislators are getting out while the getting's good. At least 35 members are retiring, some of them to take advantage of a last chance under House rules to convert leftover campaign

contributions to personal use.

All the factors whipsawing Congress are on display in the Mar. 17 Illinois primary. The loss of two seats and the need to create minority-dominated districts made it hard to protect incumbents. The result: Some familiar names will vanish from the Hill. Two Democratic stalwarts, 18-year veteran Marty Russo and five-termer William O. Lipinski, are facing each other in a South Side Chicago district. Polls show a close race. On the North Side, Frank Annunzio is retiring after 28 years rather than face Ways & Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski.

That isn't sparing Rosty -- who could have retired with a $1.3 million war chest -- from primary opposition. Redistricting cost him most of his loyal blue-collar ethnics, replacing them with Hispanics, suburbanites, and upscale condo dwellers. The 17-term incumbent, used to automatic reelection, has hired a political consultant and a pollster in his race against Dick Simpson, a former alderman who refuses PAC contributions and favors term limits. Although Rostenkowski should win, Simpson has been nipping at "Mr. Chairman's" heels, blasting Rostenkowski for doling out tax goodies to industries that contribute to his campaign. Incumbents, especially committee chairmen like Rostenkowski, still have many weapons: PAC contributions from business and labor lobbyists, free postage, and tax dollars sent home for roads, buildings -- even theme parks. But now, many members are thinking twice before using these tools -- and inviting attack from incumbent-bashing challengers.

Even though most incumbents will survive the trauma of 1992, many will be scarred by the flames. An influx of reform-minded newcomers, many of them elected without PAC money, could bring a whiff of change to the musty halls of the Hill.Paula Dwyer, with Richard S. Dunham in Chicago Edited by Stephen H. WildstromReturn to top


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