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Flaking out

The Republican leadership isn't doing itself any favors with its demands for blind loyalty.

January 17, 2007

NOW THAT THE time has arrived for congressional Republicans to show what they've learned from November's elections, they seem more concerned with the party line than with the party's performance. Consider House Minority Leader John A. Boehner's decision to remove Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona from his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Flake has made a name for himself with his long-standing effort to eliminate excessive congressional "earmarks" -- not through any complex new ethics legislation but by publicly fighting individual earmarks on the House floor. It's not certain that this was the reason he lost his Judiciary Committee job. Flake believes that he's being punished for supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Other D.C. observers say Boehner (R-Ohio) is making good on his promise last year to punish "bad behavior" by Republicans who vote against the party's leadership. What is clear is that Flake, the kind of fiscal conservative who has the potential to reverse the GOP's woes, is being held back not for his behavior but for his beliefs.

So is Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), who has been passed over for a leadership position on the House Subcommittee on Readiness . Though Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, did not characterize his decision to promote a lawmaker with less seniority, Jones has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Party discipline is not without value, and it's worth noting that the charismatic Flake has been more effective at building his own reputation than at reining in pork. Still, Flake is a skilled advocate for his party's core fiscal beliefs. And Jones is one of a growing number of Republicans who are disenchanted with the war. If Boehner and company want to restore the GOP as a party of ideas, rigor and credibility, they'll stop expecting all its members to march in lock step.

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