Legislative Mavericks

As campaign finance reform, tobacco legislation, and other needed but highly contentious items struggle on Capitol Hill, it's cause for gratitude that some lawmakers have the courage to defy partisan pressures and keep trying.

These individuals inhabit an uncomfortable gray area of politics - often criticized by members of their own party, and perhaps more praised by members of the other party than they'd like to be. The prime current examples are Republicans: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, and Jim Leach of Iowa in the House.

These men have been pillars of commitment, championing bills their leadership stalwartly opposes. They, and others, have also chosen to march to different drummers on measures ranging from restrictions on affirmative action to bills banning unions from using members' dues for political purposes. GOP colleagues have sometimes been left steaming.

Some of the latter have lobbied Speaker Gingrich to impose punishment on those who persist in such maddening independence - maybe even stripping mavericks of committee posts and chairmanships.

Two things to consider before any such moves: (1) The mavericks do so for reasons of conscience, and their constituencies may differ significantly from those of members toeing the party line. (2) The independence of these members is a political strength.

Their courage is admired by many voters, since it reflects honored American values. Party discipline and loyalty have never been dominant factors in US politics. Efforts to force conformity may comfort ardent team players, but they won't win more fans for the team.

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