Former U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette told an Akron crowd Tuesday that the Republican Party is “at a crossroads.”
He said the party must become more moderate and inclusive to have a shot at the White House or a majority in the U.S. Senate.
“If the Republican Party continues on this path to the extreme right, it will become a permanent minority party,” he told the receptive audience of about 80 people at an Akron Press Club luncheon at Quaker Square.
LaTourette served in Congress for 18 years, choosing not to seek re-election for the 14th Congressional District in 2012 after expressing frustration for the lack of cooperation and level of acrimony in Washington, D.C. He is now a lobbyist in the Capitol, where he also heads Main Street Partnership, a group that supports moderate GOP congressional members. He has gained prominence in his new role, including recent appearances on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Larry King.
Michael Shepherd, who heads a new University of Akron No Labels group, which seeks to foster civil political discussion on campus, introduced LaTourette, saying he “embodies many of the things our group believes in.”
LaTourette said he joined Congress in 1994 in a class supported by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“People thought we were crazy,” he said in his half-hour speech. “I didn’t know crazy until recently. We were not crazy.”
LaTourette said he chose to leave Congress when he became frustrated about the inability to get anything done, including the transportation budget. He pointed to the “fiscal cliff” debate about federal tax cuts for the wealthy and the federal government shutdown as other examples of gridlock.
“That’s great for bumper stickers,” he said of the fight that led to the 16-day shutdown. “What it’s not is governing.”
LaTourette was replaced by his longtime friend Dave Joyce, who is facing competition in the May 6 primary from state Rep. Matt Lynch. Lynch is being backed by FreedomWorks, a national group that supports the tea party, while LaTourette’s Main Street Partnership is supporting Joyce, as well as other GOP congressional members who are being targeted in primaries by candidates couching themselves as more conservative and backed by tea party groups.
“That’s all we’re doing,” LaTourette said. “We are not going after sitting Republicans.”
LaTourette said tea party supporters have this view that if they “get all the angry, 57-year-old white guys” to vote for them, they will win. But, he said, the GOP can’t give up on female, African-American, Jewish, homosexual and Hispanic voters.
“The Republican Party has to make the decision if it wants to have the permanent majority in the House of Representatives, but never the presidency of the United States and never control of the Senate,” he said.
LaTourette said he doesn’t think Republicans must oppose clean air or the preservation of green space or be anti-union. He said his efforts aren’t an attack on the tea party, which helped made great gains for the Republican party in the past.
“The tea party is not the Republican Party,” he said. “The Republican Party needs to be bigger than that if it is going to represent the whole country.”
For change to happen, LaTourette said the redistricting process, which gives the parties locks on various districts, needs to be changed. He said he’s not sure of the best answer, though he is watching with interest what is happening in California, where a primary is held and then the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, compete in the November election.
Asked his advice for students considering political careers, LaTourette said they must decide if they have the “fire in the belly” for it.
“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “It’s a contact sport. You have to be willing to say, ‘I love this!’ ”
LaTourette said citizens who want to improve the process should vote and get involved. He said they shouldn’t take Married With Children character Al Bundy’s approach to government — sitting on the coach with a hand in their pants, complaining about government but doing nothing about it.
“You do get the government you deserve,” he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.