Gop Centrists Get A Home Of Their Own
By Jeffrey L. Katz, CQ Staff Writer
Rep. Amo Houghton, R-N.Y., remembers when the Republican Party selected moderates as its presidential nominees and congressional leaders. But with conservatives now firmly in control, he said, "a lot of people out there don't have a home any more in the Republican Party."
As a result, Houghton and other like-minded Republicans are forming a group called the Main Street Coalition, to try to do for the GOP what the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has done for Democrats. The goal is to create a Washington-based think tank that can generate a core set of policies for a broad, center-right coalition.
Republican moderates still flourish in certain states. And Houghton noted that GOP centrists in Congress occasionally coalesce for specific issues. But they do not take a broader, long-term perspective.
"We don't have a centrist Republican intellectual infrastructure," said the Main Street Coalition's leader, former Maine GOP Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. The coalition hopes to change that, unifying behind the principle of fostering a government that is "limited but catalytic."
The group's efforts will be focused on the environment, education, fiscal matters, Social Security and Medicare, trade and international stability, and integrating immigrants into society. Abortion and gun control are off limits because they are considered too fractious.
Organizers have even talked with the DLC to see how it can be done. The DLC, founded in 1985 to try to push the Democratic Party away from its left-wing orientation, has been in the spotlight ever since one of its former chairmen, Bill Clinton, was elected president.
Al From, the DLC's president and co-founder, said he told the GOP moderates that "in the information age, you've got to build your coalition and support around your ideas and values on which you stand. You can't depend on old political alliances."
The fledgling organization lists 43 GOP House members among its supporters, as well as three senators, two governors and such notables as former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, former House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill. (1957-95), and former Attorney General Elliot Richardson.
The coalition's biggest obstacle will not be the policies it espouses, McKernan said, but that being a moderate in the GOP is out of vogue. "But for the label, three-quarters of the Republicans will support what we're doing," he said.
How will the organization gauge its success? Houghton said the standard will be if "over time you get a feeling that there are some people with judgment and clout and a social and fiscal conscience out there working for us."
© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.