Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rep. Buyer’s departure will leave open seat in home state, House Veterans Affairs Committee

Editorial by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes

( -- As noted in the article below, the decision to retire from Congress by U.S. Representative Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) will leave an open seat and a political scramble in the Indiana Congressional delegation.

However, it will also leave an open seat at the top of the Republican side of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where Buyer has served as the ranking Republican Member in the years since the Democrats won back the House and he shifted to that minority role from his previous chairmanship.

Initially seen by Gulf War veterans as a strong advocate for Gulf War Syndrome issues, he quickly learned that his fitness to govern would be questioned because of these health issues.  Some Gulf War veteran leaders felt Buyer abandoned them, while others have noted his quiet, behind-the-scenes role in supporting Gulf War Illness treatments and research in more recent years.

Buyer came under sharp criticism when, during the George W. Bush Administration, he called for closing off VA health care only to VA’s “core constituency” – the indigent and service-disabled.

Whatever the opinions may be, Buyer’s decision to leave Congress will leave a power vacuum on the Republican side of the House Veterans’ Affairs committee.

A special thanks goes out to Rep. Buyer and his staff for the many years of assistance they did provide in an array of tangible areas.

--Anthony Hardie


Buyer's decision leaves open seat

Lawmaker is focused on his wife's health

Written by Mary Beth Schneiderand Maureen Groppe, The Indianapolis Star

(INDIANAPOLIS – A political scramble was ignited Friday when Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer said he will end his 18-year congressional career to be with his ailing wife.

Within minutes of the surprise announcement, the list of potential replacements began to grow, with more expected to eye running for that rarity in politics: an open seat.

Buyer said that on Nov. 24, his wife, Joni, 52, was diagnosed with what physicians told them was "an incurable auto-immune disease" -- a finding that was confirmed Jan. 19 and again Friday.

"While Joni's sister died 21 months ago from this disease, I will not call it incurable because it's our faith that allows us to believe that all diseases can be cured," Buyer, 51, said. "As part of Joni's prognosis, she has to de-stress her life."

That, he said, is why he would not seek re-election to Congress for a 10th term and was retiring Aug. 1 from the U.S. Army Reserve, where he is a colonel with 30 years' service.

Buyer's longtime aide, state Sen. Brandt Hershman, is among those expected to vie for the 4th Congressional District seat. The strongly Republican strip of Indiana snakes north from Monticello to Mitchell in the south.

Hershman, a Lafayette Republican who is Buyer's district operations director, said Friday the immediate attention should be on Buyer and his wife. But he said he is considering running for his boss' seat and expects to have Buyer's backing.

Others weighing a run are Secretary of State Todd Rokita -- who earlier this week said he is considering challenging Democrat Evan Bayh for U.S. Senate -- and lobbyist Matt Whetstone, a Brownsburg Republican and a former state representative.

One name that won't be on the list: Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. While Indiana Republican Party Chairman Murray Clark said Skillman would "be a field-clearer" if she got into the race, she said she plans to remain lieutenant governor.

"I think a lot of people will take a look at it," including county officeholders, Clark said. "We have a really strong bench in that district."

While the 4th Congressional District is prime GOP territory, Democrats in Washington and Indiana said they'll give the race a second look.

So far, only one Democrat -- Purdue University biologist David Sanders, who

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said the district is not insurmountable now that no incumbent is on the ballot.

But, he added, "first things first. Our hearts go out to (Buyer) in a terrible time for his family. He served his country both in the military and Congress, and he's got the right priorities for his family."

No one expected Buyer to bow out now, only days from the Feb. 19 deadline to file a candidacy for the May 4 primary election.

But during a news conference at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis, where he made the announcement, his wife at his side, Buyer said that now is a time he'd like to stay in Washington.

"Politically, the easiest thing for me to do would have been to run again, especially with the present wave that is coming from the American people who are eager to take back their country."

But, he concluded: "Now is the time to step back and focus on Joni," his high school sweetheart whom he has known since third grade.

Neither Buyer nor the friends who joined him at the news conference took any questions.

He made no mention of the ethics complaint filed against him this week by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington. That group wants the Internal Revenue Service and the Office of Congressional Ethics to review the Frontier Foundation that Buyer created in 2003 to give out scholarships.

Investigations by the news media, including The Indianapolis Star, found the foundation raised more than $880,000, primarily from companies and organizations with interests before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on which Buyer serves. But it had given out no scholarships, while instead spending money to host golf fundraisers at luxury locales.

Buyer has said he is waiting to raise $1 million before giving out scholarships, so that the fund can be self-sustaining, and dismissed CREW's complaint as a political attack.

Friday, CREW extended Buyer's family its sympathies but questioned the timing of his announcement and said his retirement "should not short-circuit an investigation of his conduct."

Among Indiana's nine House members, only Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indianapolis, have served longer than Buyer.

Buyer, a lawyer from Monticello, was first elected in 1992, beating three-term Democratic Rep. Jim Jontz.

Buyer never faced a tough Democratic challenge in his heavily GOP district. But he was pitted against GOP Rep. Brian Kerns in the 2002 primary after Indiana lost a congressional seat. Buyer beat Kerns and four other GOP challengers with 55 percent.

A veteran of the Persian Gulf War, Buyer had campaigned around the district in his first race against Jontz carrying his combat boots. He suffered from physical ailments after returning from the Persian Gulf and became an advocate for the military to take seriously what became known as "Gulf War syndrome."

Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America credits Buyer with playing a key role in expanding the health-care system for military retirees.

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