When Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk went to Washington last week, they left Georgia with the adulation of tea party activists who had voted to elect them as the new representatives for the 10th and 11th House districts. Hice and Loudermilk discovered quickly that those good feelings aren’t guaranteed to last long.
On their first official day as members of Congress, just a few hours after taking the oath of office, the duo had already angered many of their constituents and provoked the folks back home into seeking opposition for them when they run again in two years.
What did they do that was so awful? They voted with a large majority of their Republican colleagues to re-elect John Boehner, a veteran congressman from Ohio with a peculiar orange complexion, as the speaker of the House.
Judging from the reaction back in Georgia, you would have thought that Hice and Loudermilk had been caught stealing from the collection plate in church or something similarly terrible. The same tea partyers who had been so happy to elect them were now calling for them to be ousted before they had even been in office for 24 hours. That might be an all-time speed record for ideological backlash.
Here’s a sampling of some comments on Facebook:
“Jody Hice outright lied on the campaign trail in his pledge not to vote for Boehner. He voted for Boehner. He turned his back on his supporters and embraced Boehner and the Republican Establishment. We need to start recruiting primary opposition.”
“Neither of them have a spine.”
“Primary only 18 months away ... one & done, Jody Hice!”
“I SMELL RECALL AND THE JAIL TRAITOR”
There were other comments that used stronger language, but I doubt that the editors of this family-oriented newspaper would allow me to quote them.
Hice and Loudermilk made one of the most basic mistakes in politics: They broke a promise. As they ran in the primaries and then the general election last year, they both pledged to the voters they would vote against Boehner for another term as speaker.
That was the message their tea party supporters wanted to hear. Tea partyers in Georgia and across the nation abhor Boehner because they believe he’s too willing to cut deals with the president they love to hate, Barack Obama.
Tea partyers think Boehner and the House Republicans should be impeaching Obama, not cutting deals with him. They also yearn to see House members follow the advice of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and shut down the federal government until Congress repeals Obamacare and virtually every other government program enacted since 1789.
Small wonder that tea partyers are ready to dump Hice and Loudermilk into the Chattahoochee River and start looking for more trustworthy candidates.
Another new House member, Rick Allen of the 12th District, also voted for Boehner after indicating last fall he would vote against him. Allen, an Augusta businessman, ran a slightly more moderate campaign that wasn’t as dependent on tea party support, so the criticism of him wasn’t quite as severe.
The congressmen attempted to justify their actions by referring to arcane House procedures.
“When the Republican Conference met in November to elect our leadership for the 114th Congress, I voted against nominating John Boehner to be the Republican nominee for speaker,” Hice said. He voted last week to re-elect Boehner, he said, because an opponent (Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert) only surfaced two days prior to the floor election.
“There was zero possibility of Louie, or any other Republican, being elected speaker over John Boehner,” Hice said, so he voted for Boehner.
Loudermilk offered a similar explanation: “When Republicans chose our nominee, I was one of three who voted for new leadership. However, nearly two months later, we still were not presented with another serious candidate ... (Tuesday) was not the time to have that fight — that was back in November.”
There’s an old saying in politics: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Hice and Loudermilk would have been better off just admitting their mistake and telling constituents it wouldn’t happen again, rather than trying to explain it away in such a lame fashion.
It wasn’t exactly the best way to start a first term in Congress.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.