Speaker-to-be John Boehner: More confrontation or a hint of compromise?
After a House Republican landslide, presumptive Speaker John Boehner will have to handle a wounded President Obama and tea party lawmakers emboldened by their success. In a Monitor interview, Boehner suggests ways that he might be able to bridge the gap between the two.
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Boehner maintains that he will be able to work with the new lawmakers in his caucus, in part because he shares many of their values and route to power. The tea party candidates, he said, included a “lot of businessmen and women – a lot of really, well-qualified, sincere people who’ve looked up just like I did 20 years ago and decided it was time to get involved.”Skip to next paragraph
The accidental speaker
Boehner’s path to Washington was not obvious or even likely. In the neighborhood where he grew up, it’s a steep walk from Andy’s Café, the family bar where he worked as a teenager, to the two-bedroom home that was a mail order from Sears, Roebuck. A small, three-bedroom addition, built by Boehner’s father and twin uncles, helped ease the space crunch for the family, but the boys still often slept outdoors, weather permitting.
High school was a pivotal time for Boehner, exposing him to new worlds and social classes. A photo of a class field trip to Washington, D.C., shows a young Boehner standing out in a flashy madras jacket.
“I’d still wear that jacket, if I had it today,” he said. “High school was one of those important points, mostly because I had grown up in a very blue-collar town. I went to high school and met a bunch of guys from other parts of town, who were clearly a lot more affluent than what I grew up in, and it just opened my eyes that there was just more out there.”
He was, by his own account, not a great student, but found a niche in team sports like football, where he was best known as a center, or long snapper, for punts and extra points. Football coach Gerry Faust recalls Boehner’s willingness to take the field, injured, when needed in big games. “He is a team player. He wanted us to be successful,” he says.
“He understands what it means to be poor,” adds Mr. Faust, who established Archbishop Moeller High School as a state football power before moving to coach at the University of Notre Dame. “Nothing came easy. He had to work for what he got.”
Boehner's wife, Debbie, recalls her first dinner at the Boehner house as a highly regimented affair, with a whirl of new faces, sacks of potatoes, jumbo cans of green beans, and an assigned task for every family member.
“It was tough to go home and tell your dad: ‘I think I might marry a Catholic, he’s one of a family of 12, and he’s a janitor,’ ” she said on a tour of Boehner sites in Reading.
Over time, Boehner put himself through night school at Xavier University, working a variety of odd jobs, including as a janitor, and later got involved in a plastic container business that he built up after the owner’s death. Public office was nowhere in sight.
Businessman turns 'reluctant' politician
Then, in 1977, he got involved in his local homeowners’ association. He ran for township trustee and, later, at the urging of a lobbyist for Armco, now AK Steel, Boehner ran and served two terms in the state legislature. “When he ran the first time, I thought he was crazy,” Debbie says.