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Land: House leadership change helpful to social conservatives

WASHINGTON (BP)–The change at the top of the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is a positive development for social conservatives, says the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency.
Rep. Bob Livingston, R.-La., appears certain to be elected the new speaker of the House when the Republican members meet Nov. 18. Livingston’s ascendancy to the top position in the House follows the Nov. 6 announcement of his candidacy and Rep. Newt Gingrich’s decision the same day not to seek reelection as speaker. Gingrich also announced he will leave Congress. No House Republican remains as an announced challenger to Livingston.
The change should be encouraging to pro-lifers and other social conservatives because Gingrich “is not a social conservative,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on the ERLC’s “For Faith and Family” radio program Nov. 9. “Newt Gingrich is a libertarian conservative.
“Newt understood that [social conservatives] were a necessary part of the [Republican] coalition, but he didn’t sympathize with them. And that showed up at crucial times.”
Livingston “is much more sympathetic to the social issues conservatives,” Land said. “He’s a better administrator. He’s known as a much better listener.”
The candidacy of Rep. Steve Largent, R.-Okla., for the House majority leader’s post also provides hope for pro-life, pro-family advocates. Largent, an outspoken conservative, is challenging the current majority leader, Rep. Dick Armey, R.-Texas. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., who is more of a moderate, also is campaigning for the position.
A Largent win, coupled with Livingston’s election, will “bode well for a lot of new energy in the Congress,” Land said. “I think it’s going to be very much a good thing for social conservatives, for evangelical Christians who want the Congress to act on issues that are of importance to them.”
In a written statement, Land predicted the “next six months will see an amazing array of new initiatives on the part of fresh, grassroots-driven Republican leadership” in the House.
Livingston, who began serving in Congress in 1977, has had a nearly perfect pro-life record. His voting record on pro-life issues has been 100 percent every year except one, according to the National Right to Life Committee. In 1995, NRLC gave Livingston a 90 percent rating, because he voted for a conference committee report that did not include a pro-life measure passed by the House and he supported a rule that did not allow for a vote on a pro-life issue.
Armey and Largent are both conservatives, but Largent is more identified as an advocate on social issues and would bring a fresh face to the leadership. His lack of tenure, only four years in the House, may hurt his chances. Dunn, who was elected in 1992, has a 61 percent pro-life voting record in her House career, according to NRLC.
Livingston, however, was one of 26 House GOP incumbents who received the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual organization, in the 1998 election. According to LCR’s web site, Livingston has “spoken out in favor of an inclusive GOP” and has taken a leadership role on issues of concern to LCR.
The positive rating on the latter was based on Livingston’s leadership as Appropriations Committee chairman in increasing funding to combat AIDS, said Kevin Ivers, LCR’s director of public affairs.
Livingston failed the organization’s three other criteria it considered in endorsing candidates: he voted for an amendment to rescind President Clinton’s executive order adding “sexual orientation” to the classifications with civil rights protection in the federal work force; he is not a supporter of the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would extend civil rights in the work place to homosexuals, and he did not return a favorable LCR questionnaire.
Mark Corallo, Livingston’s press secretary, declined to comment on LCR’s endorsement of the congressman because he said he had not seen it but added, “Bob is a conservative. He is a pro-life, social conservative, and he always has been. I think [Livingston’s speakership] will be a positive thing for social conservatives.”
Gingrich’s decision not to run again for speaker was wise because “otherwise he would have been replaced,” Land said in his prepared statement.
Gingrich and “his lieutenants had barely been suppressing over the past two years a revolt among younger Republican House members, elected in ’92, ’94 and ’96, who were far more concerned about social issues and increasingly impatient with the Republican leadership’s insistence that those social issues [take] a backseat or be sacrificed to economic issues,” Land said.