Steve LaTourette, Ohio Republican Who Took a Moderate Path in Congress, Dies at 62

Photo: Government Publishing Office, Congressional Pictorial Gallery
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by Nick Castele

Former Congressman Steve LaTourette, who represented his Lake and Geauga County district for 18 years, died Wednesday after fighting pancreatic cancer. He was 62.

LaTourette rode into Washington during the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress. Eighteen years later, he rode out of the Capitol of his own accord, as the Tea Party wave carried a new generation of conservatives to D.C.

During those years, LaTourette became known as a moderate who valued deal-making more than gridlock and bipartisanship more than rancor. He relished the work he could get done for his district, even as he criticized political paralysis in Washington.

“I am proudest whenever I come home, and the great staff that I have, there’s a pile of thank you notes from people in the district that have gotten a Social Security check, or their dad’s medals from World War Two, or an immigration visa or a passport,” LaTourette said in a 2012 interview with ideastream.

LaTourette was quick with a joke. During his first term in Congress, he allowed humor writer Dave Barry to work for a week in his press office.

On a panel of former elected officials in 2013, LaTourette poked fun at Plain Dealer columnist Brent Larkin for once criticizing the congressman’s caustic sense of humor.

“In 1996, you said that candor was going to be my downfall. And you were wrong then, and you’re wrong now,” LaTourette said as the audience laughed.

“That was after you said what again? You want to remind us?” Larkin said.

“I said Congress sucks, and I was right then and I’m right now,” LaTourette replied.

LaTourette won election as Lake County’s prosecutor in 1988, and secured convictions and plea deals in an infamous case of a Kirtland cult responsible for the murder of a Northeast Ohio family.

In 1994, LaTourette defeated first-term Democratic Congressman Eric Fingerhut, and became part of the Republican revolution that flipped control of the House, entering office on Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. Rather than pledging to dismantle the government, LaTourette tried to turn the gears of Congress to carry resources back to his district.

LaTourette defended earmarks, the practice of securing federal projects and contracts back home.

“I started out representing 500,000 people, ended representing 700,000 people,” he said at the 2013 panel of elected officials. “I know my district better than the president of the United States, no matter who that person is, better than the governor of the state of Ohio, no matter who that person is, and what the needs are. And I never ran from earmarks. I used to put out press releases. I was proud of them.”

When the Pentagon planned to shut down a major military payroll office in Cleveland and transfer away more than 1,000 jobs, LaTourette and his staff put up a fight. The Defense Department backed down.

In more recent years, LaTourette grew frustrated with a new generation of Tea Party Republicans in Congress and with political battles over budget bills.

In 2012, LaTourette announced he would not run for another term, saying compromise had become a dirty word in Congress. He founded his own consulting group and Super PAC to support a more moderate brand of Republican politics.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges remembered LaTourette as “one of the good guys,” writing in an emailed statement, “We need more people like Steve LaTourette in public service.”

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