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Twelve worried men

"Twelve worried men" Continued...

Issue: "The new urban frontier," March 9, 2013

“There is no rule that says I have to check my faith when I go through the doors of the house chamber,” said Broun, a member of the Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Ga. “I can stand the heat. The only thing that intimidates me is this looming financial meltdown.”

Louie Gohmert became a Christian at age 6 while attending a Baptist church in Mount Pleasant, Texas. “Some thought that was too young, but I knew exactly what I was doing. Even today I sometimes pray for the clarity of faith that I had when I was 6.”

But faith in his convictions led Gohmert to stand up alone and oppose Boehner long before the formal January speaker vote. During a closed-door meeting of House members last November, days after Republican losses in the elections, Gohmert nominated former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to replace Boehner as the next speaker. (The speaker doesn’t have to be a member of Congress.)

No one seconded Gohmert’s nomination. He knew that would happen, but he proceeded with the nomination because it would allow him to make a three-minute speech before every single Republican House colleague. With lawmakers often going in and out of a barely full House chamber during legislative debates, this was a rare captive audience.

He told his colleagues they had been on the same track for too long. They had failed to rein in spending, failed to slow down Obamacare, and failed to tackle entitlements. “No matter how nice your coach is,” Gohmert said, “if your team is not winning, then it is time to change coaches.”

When he finished, the meeting proceeded as scripted. The lawmakers renominated Boehner as the GOP’s candidate for speaker. Boehner began his acceptance speech by turning to Gohmert and saying, “I love you too, Louie.”

“You don’t get a committee or subcommittee chairmanship when you nominate somebody else for speaker,” said Gohmert, 59, who voted for West over Boehner in January’s official House speaker vote. “But I am more concerned about doing what’s right and keeping our promises. The great thing about being at peace in pursuit of what you believe you are supposed to be doing is that victory is outside of our control.”

This was not the first time Gohmert, who teaches Sunday school at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, tried to make a case for dismissing the old guard. As a lawyer in Texas in the early 1990s, he grew dismayed over a veteran Republican district judge’s ethical lapses. When Gohmert tried to argue that the judge had served too long, the GOP establishment in the county wouldn’t go along.

“They said, ‘He is the first Republican ever elected in our county so we just feel like we owe it to him to let him have whatever job he wants,’” Gohmert recalled. “I didn’t feel like being a public servant was something people were entitled to.”

Gohmert challenged the incumbent judge in the primary and won with 70 percent of the vote. He heard more than 10,000 cases during his 10 years on the bench, earning a reputation for unique rulings. In 1996, he ordered a man with AIDS to secure written informed consent statements from future sex partners as part of a probation deal tied to a car theft conviction. Gohmert issued the order after the man’s sister testified that her brother said he did not care whom he infected.

Gohmert said he often encountered laws that caused more trouble than solutions. Why, for example, as a condition of probation for illegal immigrants, did he have to require them to appear before their probation officer every month, which in effect encouraged them to violate the law by remaining in the country?  “You are not supposed to legislate from the bench, so I started considering a run for Congress,” he said.

Defeating another incumbent in 2004, Gohmert became the first Republican since Reconstruction to represent northeast Texas in Congress.

In Washington he has continued to offer outside-the-box ideas: He opposed a two-month tax holiday as an alternative to Obama’s stimulus bill in January 2009. After the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, he proposed legislation allowing members of Congress to carry guns in Washington.

His unorthodox ways extend beyond legislation: When city leaders in Lufkin, Texas, ran out of food and water for refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005, Gohmert rented two U-Haul trucks, loaded them with thousands of pounds of water and food, and drove one of them the 80 miles to Lufkin. He then drove to a Walmart and reloaded the trucks with blankets and pillows.

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