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Northwest Congresswoman Refuses To Go Along Chenoweth, Nethercutt Back Gingrich; Smith Stands Alone Among Area Republicans

Like most Northwest Republicans, Reps. George Nethercutt and Helen Chenoweth stuck with Newt Gingrich when voting for this session’s speaker of the House.

Among the region’s Republicans, only Rep. Linda Smith of Vancouver voted for another candidate, after likening Gingrich to “a little round kid” who should be pushed away from the table for the good of the family.

“If I have one fat kid eating all the food, I will move him away from the table before I let the rest of (the family) starve,” she said Monday.

Smith has clashed with the speaker over campaign finance reform, particularly political action committees that she wants to limit severely or abolish. Gingrich’s committee, GOPAC, is at the center of some allegations before the Ethics Committee.

The cloud hanging over Gingrich was hurting Republicans even though his problems amounted to “bad judgment calls” rather than illegal actions, she said.

Smith voted to give the House’s top job to former Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, who now heads a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.

Nethercutt, an attorney from Spokane, said he spent hours studying allegations against Gingrich and the Georgia congressmen’s responses, and watched parts of the controversial college courses at the center of one of the charges. He also studied the history of the speakership, and the allegations that toppled Jim Wright in 1989.

In the end, he concluded that Gingrich “is acceptable to be speaker.

“I didn’t take the vote lightly,” Nethercutt said. “I spent about 4 hours at the Republican meeting last night, listening to him and his detractors.”

He checked with tax experts who said they do not believe Gingrich broke any laws in contributions from his political action committee to the college course.

Chenoweth, a political consultant from Boise, said she had no reservations about casting her vote for Gingrich, even though she and the speaker disagreed at times during the last session. In one highly publicized incident, Gingrich skipped an appearance at a Chenoweth fund-raiser after she refused to vote for his budget package.

“Clearly, he deserves to be reelected,” she said Tuesday. “Few people in this century have the leadership capabilities he has.”

The complaint against Gingrich boiled down to “he paid an attorney $350 an hour to do a report” on his college course and got bad advice, she said.

“All of us who work with lawyers and accountants know that mistakes can be made,” she said.

Nethercutt and Chenoweth said they could change their minds if the Ethics Committee votes to censure Gingrich, but neither considers that likely.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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