Crane remembered as conservative pioneer

 
 
Updated 11/16/2014 6:13 AM
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  • Phil Crane

    Phil Crane

  • Congressman Phil Crane, left, with his chief of staff, Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights, and Ronald Reagan.

    Congressman Phil Crane, left, with his chief of staff, Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights, and Ronald Reagan. Courtesy of Ed Murnane

  • Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights, former Rep. Phil Crane's chief of staff, talks about Crane's legacy as a congressman.

      Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights, former Rep. Phil Crane's chief of staff, talks about Crane's legacy as a congressman. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Congressman Phil Crane, left, with his chief of staff, Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights.

    Congressman Phil Crane, left, with his chief of staff, Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights. Courtesy of Ed Murnane

  • Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights, former Rep. Phil Crane's chief of staff, talks about Crane's legacy as a congressman.

      Ed Murnane of Arlington Heights, former Rep. Phil Crane's chief of staff, talks about Crane's legacy as a congressman. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

So what made a self-professed union guy and knee-jerk Democrat from Chicago's Southwest Side convert to Republican politics?

For Ed Murnane, now of Arlington Heights, it was the articulate reasoning of the late U.S. Rep. Phil Crane.

"Crane actually swung me," said Murnane, who worked with Crane for six years early in his tenure, including as chief of staff. "He would explain things in a way I hadn't thought of before."

Crane, a professor of history who went from academia to Congress in 1969 and didn't leave Washington until an upset defeat in 2004, died Nov. 8. He was buried Saturday near the family farm in Indiana. He was 84.

Besides a remarkably long run in Washington representing northwest Cook and western Lake counties, the square-jawed Wauconda resident was known for his contributions to the modern conservative movement. When he was defeated by Melissa Bean in 2004, Crane was the longest serving Republican member of the House of Representatives.

From his work on the campaign of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and 1964 book, "The Democrat's Dilemma," through a continuing fight for lower taxes and a policy of voting against any budget with a deficit, Crane remained true to conservative ideals, including limited government, strong national defense and free enterprise.

"Phil was a principled conservative -- a Tea Partyer long before there was a Tea Party," said Ed Feulner, who worked with Crane in the late '60s and early '70s to develop the Republican Study Committee and later The Heritage Foundation.

Feulner served as president/CEO of the conservative think tank for 36 years until 2013. He considered Crane a friend and remembered him as an emerging leader and intellectual guru who helped develop conservative alternatives to the liberal Brookings Institution.

They devised an "inside-outside" strategy for conservative Republicans in Congress. The "inside" was the study committee, of which Crane later became chairman. The "outside" was the think tank to produce short, timely studies with credible facts and conservative policy conclusions that actually would be read by congressmen or their staffs, Feulner said.

As a practical politician, Crane knew the time pressure and attention span of the intended audience and saw a need for an outside source of information, Feulner said. That and his relationship with conservative leaders like Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, as well as his relationship with business interests, helped sell the idea and led to the incorporation of the foundation in 1972.

"Our belief, as Phil so well described it, was that if we could get Washington to at least agree on the facts, we would go a long way toward solving the problem of Washington's divisions among the policymakers," Feulner said.

Feulner, who also served as Crane's chief of staff, said the longtime congressman's conservative ideology when he entered the U.S. House made him a minority within the minority party, a situation that would change with time.

"When he left the Congress in 2004, he had helped make conservatism the mainstream of the Republican Party and of the entire U.S. political arena," Feulner said.

State Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. of Mundelein said he was considering public service after graduating from college in 1992. Sullivan's father told him that if he wanted to learn about government, the only person to see was Crane. Sullivan said he asked for a job and ended up as assistant campaign manager.

Those who worked for him affectionately referred to Crane as "The Boss," said Sullivan, who still does.

"Many of his ideas are being hashed out today," Sullivan said. "He was for the flat tax, term limits, and a huge advocate for jobs through free trade agreements."

Sullivan recalled Crane as a larger-than-life figure who could mesmerize an audience.

"People believed in him because he believed in himself," Sullivan said. Crane had a strong, loyal base of support because he was a man of his word, he said.

Crane's commitment to principles led to his first victory, said Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League. He initially met Crane in his role as the Daily Herald's first political editor.

Crane, a political novice, faced several established politicians in a 1969 special election to fill the seat of Donald Rumsfeld.

"The real difference I think between Crane and the other Republicans (was) they all were saying the same things they would say in every election they ran in," Murnane said. "Crane was more philosophical. Crane really tried to distinguish himself as the thoughtful Republican."

While the Democratic trend was government subsidies to solve perceived problems, Crane believed that provided no guarantee of success, Murnane said. His mission was to lower taxes and reduce spending to make life easier and less expensive for constituents, while keeping federal government out of local concerns.

"He had a different philosophy on what (his) role as a congressman was," Murnane said.

Crane argued passionately that American citizens should be permitted to own gold. And as a matter of principle, he argued that federal subsidies for things like urban mass transit was not an appropriate use of taxpayer funds, Feulner said.

"Big arguments over foreign policy and domestic issues involved Phil as a leading conservative figure in Washington and around the nation," he said.

Crane was the first congressman to openly support Reagan against then-President Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primary. Four years later, when it appeared Reagan wasn't going to run again, Crane sought the 1980 GOP presidential nomination. Reagan entered the race and Crane eventually withdrew, throwing his support to the future president.

Years later, after his exit from Congress, Crane described Reagan as the politician he had the most respect for.

Crane spent most of his career on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, rising to the second-ranking slot as chairman of the trade subcommittee.

He faced his first primary challenge in 1992. Through the years, both Republicans and Democrats tried to unseat him. Opponents claimed some of Crane's views, such as opposition to federally funded arts programs, were out of touch.

In 2000, Crane announced publicly that he was seeking treatment for alcoholism, saying that over time he "sensed an increased dependence on alcohol." He was praised for his decision.

"Phil Crane on his worst day is smarter than most on their best day," then-U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican, said at the time.

But by 2004, even supporters like then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Yorkville said Crane needed to spend more time in his district to be effective as he faced a rematch with marketing consultant Melissa Bean, a Democrat from Barrington. Bean upset Crane that year with strong party support, which ended the longest tenure of any House Republican.

Crane said he thought Republican strength in the district had guaranteed his re-election and noted he was one of 10 House members targeted by Democrats an all-out effort.

"Part of it, I think, was demoralization of our entire Republican Party in the state of Illinois," he said.

Murnane thought that in the eyes of many voters, Crane had been around long enough.

"I think Melissa Bean was a fresh face and with (a) growing trend toward women in Congress, I think it was an easy choice for many voters," he said. "She was not some radical left-winger, but someone who seemed moderate, rational, and with more energy than Phil Crane had."

Feulner said Crane throughout his 35 years stuck to his guns whether in the minority or majority.

"His vision for the future, based on the underlying principles of America's founders' commitment to liberty, was an inspiration to all of us who knew him and who worked for him and with him," he said.

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