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Remembering Ex-Rep. Bill Clinger: Intrepid Investigator and a Gentleman to Boot

News that former Rep. Bill Clinger, R.-PA died May 28 after a long bout with cancer focused on his record as one of a dying breed: moderate-to-conservative “Establishment” Republicans.

With a lifetime rating of 64% from the American Conservative Union, Clinger (who was 92 at the time of his death) had few problems with most federal government programs — just so long as they were managed ably and honestly. 

Conservation and government efficiency were special areas of focus for the nine-term lawmaker. Clinger help write and guide the Pennsylvania Wilderness Act of 1984 to enactment. He was also principal sponsor of the 1995 Paper Reduction Act, which was signed into law by Democrat President Bill Clinton.

Most obituaries of Clinger reported, he was one of a handful of former Republican office-holders opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016 and openly supporting Democrat Joe Biden in ’20.

He is crazy,” Clinger said of Trump last year, “He is a narcissist. The party is in a very bad position…. It is very unfortunate. He has hijacked the Republican Party….”

But to those on the right who would condemn Bill Clinger for his words and actions regarding Trump, there were older conservatives who knew the gentlemanly Keystone State lawmaker and recalled how he oversaw an investigation in 1995 into the “Travelgate” scandals involving President Bill Clinton and wife Hillary.

With Clinger leading the charge, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee probed just how the Clintons planned to oust veteran White House Travel Director Billy Dale and install their own cronies to handle (and profit from) official presidential travel.

“[A] story about influence-peddling and sleazy deal-making,” is how the American Spectator characterized Travelgate.  Clinger charged that the White House was not cooperating in his investigation and eventually deployed subpoenas to secure witnesses and documents related to Travelgate. 

No charges were ever brought against the Clintons for Travelgate, and he has long insisted the investigations into it were a “fraud.”  But the Clinton friends all left the Travel Office, the employees fired from the Travel Office were rehired in other jobs, and Billy Dale, who had been charged with embezzlement, was acquitted by a jury in less than three hours.

Sen. Joe McCarthy, R.-Wisc., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif.,, past and future chairmen of much-publicized congressional probes, were personally pilloried as bullies and slander-singers by the liberal media. Not so Bill Clinger, whose soft-spoken demeanor and methodical manner earned respect on both sides of the political spectrum.

“Bill was a true gentleman,” former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R.-La., who came to Congress a year before Clinger told Newsmax. ” I don’t think I ever heard him utter an unkind thought.”

Born and raised in Warren County, Pennsylvania, William F. Clinger, Jr. graduated from Johns Hopkins University (Md.) and served a stint in the U.S. Navy. He went on to work for the New Process Company in his hometown and, after earning his law degree from the University of Virginia, went into private practice.

The young Clinger’s involvement in Republican politics was exclusively local and as a volunteer. He was elected a delegate to Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Convention in 1967 and helped streamline his state’s constitution (which included amending it to permit governors to seek second consecutive terms). 

President Gerald Ford named Clinger as general counsel to the Economic Development Administration.  In that capacity, he looked for waste and inefficiency in an agency considered a synonym for boondogglery and big government by conservatives.

After Ford left office in 1976, Clinger came home to Warren County and restarted his law practice — for a time. But elective politics beckoned. Democrat Joseph Ammerman had unseated veteran Republican Rep. Albert W. Johnson, snatching Pennsylvania’s 23rd District that had been in Republican hands for a quarter-century.

With the widespread circle of friends Clinger and wife Judy had made through politics, their church, and community activities, he captured the GOP nomination with ease.  In November, he easily unseated Ammerman and put the 23rd District back in GOP hands.

“Gentle,” “thoughtful,” and “hard-working” were the contemporaneous adjectives most often used to describe Clinger.

“Bill was a gentleman and his wife was delightful,” Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich, who came to Congress with Clinger in 1978, told Newsmax. “He replaced me as Ranking Member on the Aviation Subcommittee. He got [Penn State football coach] Joe Paterno to come to a House Republican Conference, where he spent an hour talking about developing a winning team.”

Clinger could have retained his seat for life. But in 1996, he retired after 18 years and helped fellow Republican and friend John Petersen keep the seat. 

Echoing the words of many colleagues that Bill Clinger was a “a perfect gentlemen,” another “Class of ’78” alumnus, former Rep. Ken Kramer, R.-Col., said of him: “He was never a showboat but very smart, reliable and trustworthy. We need more like him today.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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