Monday, October 08, 2012

Rep. Jeff Flake's focus still on pork spending by Dan Nowicki - The AZ Republic

Rep. Jeff Flake grew up on a ranch in rural Arizona and, as a consequence, knows bloated pork when he sees it.

During his six terms in Congress, Flake, R-Ariz., has worked with -- and exasperated -- members of both parties as he has crusaded to rid Capitol Hill of often-wasteful earmarks and reform Washington's big-spending culture.

For years, Flake blew the whistle on the pork-barrel politics of influential House lawmakers, becoming a cult hero to fiscal conservatives across the country who came to know him via C-SPAN's coverage of his many floor amendments targeting colleagues' parochial projects that he considered inappropriate uses of taxpayer money.

Earmarks were a bipartisan indulgence, and Flake took on the issue when his fellow Republicans were in control. At the same time, Flake's unbending opposition to earmarks has frustrated local politicians and business leaders who look to their senators and representatives to fight for federal funding for projects back home.

Flake's determination eventually paid off, and he is credited as the driving force behind the earmark moratorium that's now in effect.

He has had other successes, too: an expensive ethanol-tax subsidy he has long opposed expired last year, and the practice of paying billions in agricultural subsidies directly to farmers appears to be ending after this year.

Flake's reformer credentials aren't limited to legislation. In 2006, he helped make sure powerful Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who was facing criminal prosecution, never returned to his job as House majority leader. DeLay eventually was convicted in a money-laundering case involving Texas politics, but he has appealed.

"If I'm remembered as the guy who killed earmarks, that's a great thing," Flake told The Arizona Republic.

But as Flake, 49, runs this year for Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat, he is finding out that the tough stance against spending and his other conservative priorities that made him all but unbeatable in a Republican-dominated East Valley congressional district present vulnerabilities in a statewide race.

For one thing, he cannot promise voters that he'll bring home the bacon. His congressional record includes many "no" votes, and his opponents are blistering him with television ads that accuse him of opposing bills to help military veterans. Depending on one's political point of view, the GOP entitlement-reform efforts he has supported either will end Medicare as it is now known or restructure it in a way that will keep the financially troubled program solvent for future generations

Retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, the Republican whose seat Flake and Carmona are seeking, said voters shouldn't hold Flake's reputation for voting "no" against him, stressing that, in general, Flake has stood by his fiscally conservative principles.

Kyl used the example of President Barack Obama's 2010 health-care-reform law, which Flake voted against in the House and has promised to vote to repeal in the Senate. Carmona has said he supports the law.

"If you believe that government should continue to get bigger and tax more of your money and spend more, then you want to vote 'yes,' " said Kyl, the Senate minority whip who is strongly backing Flake. "If you want to stop some of that stuff, sometimes you have to vote 'no.' Some legislative success is due to stopping bad things. If the people of Arizona want to repeal 'Obamacare,' they need to vote for Jeff Flake. Carmona's not going to vote to repeal Obamacare."

In the Senate, Flake would pursue an agenda of economic growth and job creation, Medicare reform, border security and cutting government spending, according to his campaign website.

A family tradition of politics

Flake, who as a 5-year-old lost part of a finger in an alfalfa-field accident, grew up in Snowflake on a ranch owned by the the F-Bar Cattle Co., a partnership consisting of his father and three uncles.

"It was a good way to grow up," Flake recalled. "I've always thought it was more noble to have a profession where you shower in the evening rather than the morning."

Along with ranching, the Flake family also embraced politics. Flake's father, Dean Flake, is a former Snowflake mayor. His uncle, the late Jake Flake, was speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. Sam Flake, a first cousin of his father's, served in the Legislature from 1965 to 1973.

House colleagues on both sides of the aisle describe Flake as a likable personality who they can get along with and respect even if they don't always agree with him on the issues.

"I think he's going to be an unusually effective conservative in the United States Senate because of his demeanor and his personal skills," said Rep. Mike Pence, a fellow House Republican from Indiana who is now running for governor of his state. "I know people on Capitol Hill who have never voted for a Jeff Flake amendment but who really like him and don't have an unkind word to say about him."

Pence predicted that, if elected, Flake would serve in the tradition of Arizona's late Sen. Barry Goldwater, the straight-talking conservative icon who was the 1964 Republican presidential nominee.

"I really do believe Jeff Flake is Arizona -- at least the Arizona I see from the heartland," said Pence, who, like Flake, was first elected to Congress in 2000. "I grew up admiring the leadership of Barry Goldwater and, in more recent years, of Jon Kyl and John McCain. Each in unique ways has emerged as a thoughtful, independent voice on Capitol Hill, and Jeff Flake is in keeping with that same tradition: someone who is serious about his principles and willing to take a strong ... conservative stand."

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