Rising Stars

While no heir apparent has been identified,
new leaders are beginning to appear
in conservative ranks.


Mr. Novak is a syndicated columnist and a television commentator on CNN.

FOR the first time in 36 years, there is nobody in line for the next Republican presidential nomination. In fact, nobody has stepped up to become the clear political leader of the conservative movement since Ronald Reagan left the White House.

But these are not dismal tidings for conservatism. The Right has impressive bench strength -- new figures without national reputations and unlikely to be presidential contenders in 2000, but effective and principled potential leaders for the future.

At the suggestion of NR's editors, I have selected five conservatives to keep an eye on. Since their selection is nothing if not arbitrary, I set four arbitrary rules for picking them.

1) No household names; they must not be people widely recognized. 2) No noble losers, but rather people who win elections. 3) No moderates; bona fide conservatives only. 4) No political correctness mandating diversity (which regrettably ends up with no women on the bench).

Michigan Gov. John Engler, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, and Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft have been around a shade too long to qualify. Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson are attractive and effective, but the conservatism of each has yet to be proved. George's brother Jeb is surely conservative enough; both he and Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith would qualify had they not lost races for governor, in Florida and Indiana, respectively.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, Michigan Sen. Spence Abraham, and Oklahoma Reps. Steve Largent and J. C. Watts were just nosed out by these five:

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas; University of California Regent Ward Connerly; California Attorney General Dan Lungren; Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana.

And here is a ``junior varsity'' of promising conservatives at state and local levels:

Raleigh (N.C.) Mayor Tom Fetzer; Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher; Colorado State Treasurer Bill Owens; Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate; Illinois State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger.

Sam Brownback, 40, Garnett, Kan.: Thanks to Robert J. Dole's resignation, Brownback became the first of the famous House freshman class of 1994 to advance to the Senate.

The road was not easy. Kansas may have been the most consistently Republican state over the past generation, but it did not send movement conservatives to Washington -- until Sam Brownback.

A farmboy turned lawyer, Brownback served for six years as secretary of the Kansas Board of Agriculture and as a White House fellow in 1990 - 91 -- long enough to convince him the Federal Government is much too big.

His 1994 run for Congress, his first attempt at elective office, was against Democrat John Carlin, a former two-term governor. Embracing the Contract with America, Brownback won 66 per cent of the vote and carried every county in his district.

Brownback ignored Sam Rayburn's advice that House newcomers should be seldom seen and never heard. He quickly formed the New Federalists, 14 rookie Republicans dedicated to slashing government.

By the time Dole resigned from the Senate this June, Brownback had become disillusioned with House Republican leadership. He now had a shot at a Senate seat in a new kind of Senate -- with Trent Lott as Majority Leader and conservatives such as himself replacing the Doles and the Hatfields.

But first he had to face what he calls ``The Machine'' -- the Kansas Republican establishment. Gov. Bill Graves, a moderate, pro-choice Republican, filled the Dole vacancy by naming his lieutenant governor, Sheila Frahm, a dependable organization politician who is pro-choice and anti-term-limits, and who refused to sign a federal no-tax-increase pledge.

Mrs. Frahm began the primary campaign with a huge lead over Brownback. But Brownback, strongly supported by religious conservatives, tapped voters newly converted to the Republican Party and won -- easily.

Next he faced a formidable opponent with the most prestigious Democratic name in Kansas: Jill Docking, who ran as a fiscally conservative businesswoman appealing to establishment Republicans who were turned off by Brownback's support from the Religious Right.

When Mrs. Docking led in some polls, a number of political reporters were prepared to deplore the Republican folly of losing a safe seat by turning to an extremist. But Brownback won -- again, easily. Kansas has its first bona fide conservative senator in four decades.

Ward Connerly, 57, Sacramento, Calif.: Connerly is in a different category from the others. Although he is undoubtedly a Republican and a conservative, whether he will be a national leader is a matter of considerable doubt.

The doubt does not stem from Connerly's appeal. This black businessman awed conservatives with his courage and eloquence in leading the fight for the California Civil Rights Initiative. The question is whether, having experienced the rancid swamps of politics, he wants to get in any deeper.

Connerly, born in rural poverty in Louisiana, became a Republican 28 years ago. He was working for the California state housing department when he was lured away to become chief consultant to a new State Assembly Committee on Urban Affairs by its chairman, a liberal Republican named Pete Wilson.

Following Wilson's advice, Connerly later went into the private sector to forge a successful career as a land consultant. He declined a full-time position in Gov. Wilson's administration, but he did accept a 12-year term as a University of California Regent.

From that normally obscure base, he led the way in rolling back race and gender preferences in the giant university system. Next came his leadership in the turbulent battle for passage of CCRI. In its course, he was vilified by black leaders (one advertisement depicted him as a robed Klansman) and given the cold shoulder by corporate leaders fearful of upsetting the status quo.

That experience has led Connerly to reject appeals to run against liberal Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer next election, and indeed to say he will never again enter the political arena. But he is expected to continue his fight for an even playing field.

Daniel E. Lungren, 49, Sacramento, Calif.: Articulate, handsome, Catholic, a proven vote-getter, and a native Californian, Lungren is a presidential candidate of the future -- but only if elected governor in 1998. That would mark the fifth straight successful Republican campaign for governor, but the first time an arguably legitimate conservative had been elected since 1970.

Lungren is pro-life, a supply-sider, and tough on crime and immigration. His position in the California GOP was underlined at the party's platform-committee proceedings in San Diego last summer. While Lungren was inside drafting a socially conservative platform, Pete Wilson was outside in a press conference denouncing it.

Lungren spent five terms (1979 - 88) in Congress, where he became a leader on crime and immigration legislation. So well was he regarded by former colleagues that he was pushed by Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey to be Dole's running-mate.

He had joined with Gingrich to form the ``Conservative Opportunity Society,'' and was among those who sought to oust Bob Michel as Republican minority leader in 1980. But by 1984, Michel had tapped him to manage the Republican anti-crime legislation.

Lungren left Congress in 1988 to accept appointment as state treasurer but was rejected by the Democratic-controlled State Senate. However, in 1990 he was elected state attorney general, and he was re-elected in 1994 with a 4.4-million-vote landslide.

Rick Santorum, 38, Pittsburgh, Pa.: He is the first genuinely conservative Republican senator from Pennsylvania in half a century and a rising star in the Senate. At a time of Republican - conservative decline in the Northeast, Santorum swims against the tide.

After four years with a law firm in Pittsburgh, this second-generation Italian - American ran for Congress in 1990 against a seven-term Democrat. Santorum was outspent nearly 3 to 1, but knocked on 25,000 doors promising reform and change. He barely won.

He was one of the ``Gang of Seven'' freshman Republicans who exposed the House Bank scandal -- a foundation of the 1994 GOP takeover of the House. But by that time Santorum was running for the Senate against Sen. Harris Wofford, the national Democratic poster boy after his 1991 upset win.

Santorum, strongly supported by religious conservatives, did everything a candidate is not supposed to do in the Northeast. He was pro-life, challenged Wofford on health care, and opposed gun control. He barely won.

Once in the Senate as its youngest member, he did not hold his tongue. On the Balanced Budget Amendment, he challenged the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd in floor debate, and he called for Sen. Mark Hatfield to step down as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee after Hatfield cast the decisive vote against the amendment.

Asked in early 1995 to name the most outstanding new GOP senators, Trent Lott mentioned Santorum first. Now, Santorum is a trusted personal lieutenant of the new Majority Leader in the new activist Senate.

W. J. (Billy) Tauzin, 53, Thibodaux, La.: A House member for 16 years, he is an infant in Republican years. He began the 104th Congress saying he would stay a Democrat ``for now,'' but that did not turn out to be too long. His walk across the aisle was signaled when he subscribed to all ten items in the Contract with America.

As a Democrat, he fought for private-property rights, with demands for compensation of citizens deprived of their property by government action. That often put him on a collision course with the imperious House Commerce Committee chairman, John Dingell.

Tauzin was elected to Congress nine times as a Democrat, closely allied with Louisiana's notorious former governor, Edwin Edwards. Yet last summer, he was selected to deliver the keynote address to the GOP platform committee by its chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde. Concerned by reports that the platform writers were getting wobbly, Tauzin urged the committee to hold firm.

He had been expected to run for the Senate in 1996 but stayed in the House instead, earning his tenth term without opposition -- the first time that has ever happened to a party-switcher. He is an integral part of the Republican inner circle, representing the migration of conservative Democrats in the Deep South to the GOP.

Now, here are five conservatives to watch at the state and local levels:

Tom Fetzer, 41, Raleigh, N.C.: A former staffer for Republican Gov. Jim Martin, he was the upset winner in the 1993 non-partisan elections in a city considered a Democratic bastion. As mayor, he has cut taxes and personnel.

Mike Fisher, 52, Pittsburgh, Pa.: A veteran state legislator, Fisher bucked the 1996 Clinton tide in Pennsylvania to eke out a victory for attorney general. A law-and-order conservative, he owes his victory to support from religious conservatives assailed by the state's senior senator, Republican Arlen Specter.

Bill Owens, 46, Aurora, Colo.: A businessman/state legislator, Owens was elected to his first full-time government post as state treasurer in 1994. He champions taxpayers and private enterprise. His eight visits to Russia, including a 1995 stint as an election observer, suggest he has more on his mind than Colorado state investments.

Paul Pate, 38, Marion, Iowa: Owner and operator of a paving and construction company, Pate served six years in the State Senate before his election as secretary of state in 1994. He has pressed for deregulation of business and is the hope of Iowa conservatives for governor in 1998.

Steven J. Rauschenberger, 40, Elgin, Ill.: A furniture retailer, he was elected to the State Senate in 1992 and is now chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has specialized in tax relief and welfare reform and is a prospect for the future in a state where conservatives have fared poorly the past two decades.