Education of a Republican
By France Griggs Sloat
A royal blue Lincoln Continental swings into the Smart Papers parking lot in Hamilton, Ohio, on a warm, sticky September morning. The passenger door opens and John Boehner steps out. He’s all business—hair in place, crisp white shirt, sky-blue striped tie, gray designer slacks, black shoes. Very neat.
He leaves his jacket in the car, which is driven by Mick Krieger, chief of staff in the Hamilton office of Ohio’s 8th District congressman.
Upstairs in a wood-paneled board room of the turn-of-the-century factory, he shakes hands all around, talks about issues in the Capitol, sips coffee from a Styrofoam cup and, finally, takes a hurried tour of the sprawling plant. He’s got to be in Dayton in an hour.
But for a moment, as he exits into the sunny parking lot, he lets the other John Boehner out of the suit. Reaching into a shirt pocket for a Barclay cigarette, he and Krieger light up and smoke, while Boehner begins telling stories—stories about President Bush’s golf game, and about his boyhood start in business working at the family bar. The people standing around him feel special.
“I started working at Andy’s [Café] when I was 10 years old, Saturday mornings mopping floors. When I got a raise to $2 an hour, I thought I was rich.”
They all laugh.
This right here is the key to John Boehner, one of the most powerful legislators on Capitol Hill. This is how he survived the bloodletting in 1998 that came as a result of his close association with Newt Gingrich. This is how he made a political comeback in 2001, being named chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee. And this is how he scored his greatest coup last January when he drew President Bush to a school just a few miles from where he’s now standing to sign the landmark federal education bill.
From regular guys in steel-toed shoes at a paper factory to well-heeled men in Armani suits on Capitol Hill, Boehner can carry a conversation with them all. He makes them feel comfortable, appreciated, important. It’s a trait that took him from head of his neighborhood association to Congress. And it’s a trait some say could take him to the top.