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Published: Wednesday, 11/2/2005

Oxley to retire in 2007; GOP congressman cites lengthy career in politics

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY Mike Oxley arrived in Washington 24 years ago as a young congressman from Ohio s 4th Congressional District, just in time to help President Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party launch a conservative revolution of tax cuts and a military buildup aimed at wearing down the Soviet Union.

Yesterday, Mr. Oxley, 61, spoke with pride about his part in the GOP s national ascendancy as he announced he would step down from Congress at the end of his term in 2007, ending a political career that began in Findlay more than 30 years ago.

I m here to announce I m not running, and to thank you for all those years, the congressman, accompanied by his wife, Patricia, told an audience of about 200 people during a breakfast at the Findlay County Club. To be able to represent the people of this district, conservative, Midwestern, common-sense kind of folks, is an honor few people have.

Mr. Oxley rose to become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which was created from the House Banking Committee, in 2000. Under House term-limit rules, Mr. Oxley, as head of the powerful panel, which handles banking, insurance, and securities legislation, will have to give up that position at the end of 2006.

He acknowledged that fact played a role in his decision to retire, which he said he reached several months ago. It was a factor, Mr. Oxley said. I ll be 62 in February. I ve been in public life since 72.

A Findlay native, Mr. Oxley was born into a political family. His father, Garver, was a Republican who served as Hancock County prosecutor.

Mr. Oxley won his first election in 1961 as a junior class representative to the student council of Findlay High School. He graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a political science degree in 1966, then received a law degree at Ohio State University.

Mr. Oxley worked as an FBI agent in Boston and New York City, then returned to Findlay in 1972 to run for the Ohio House at the urging of local Republicans. He won, and served in the General Assembly until 1981, when U.S. Rep. Tennyson Guyer (R., Findlay) died in office.

Mr. Oxley edged state Rep. Dale Locker, an Anna, Ohio, Democrat, by 341 votes in a special election to replace Mr. Guyer.

In his first vote on the House floor, Mr. Oxley was part of the narrow majority that passed President Reagan s tax-cut package, which the congressman said revitalized the U.S. economy.

Reagan did change us, Mr. Oxley said. He changed us for the better. He said we can improve the economy by lowering taxes. He said we can win the Cold War.

Mr. Oxley, a conservative stalwart, is perhaps best known for his role in passage of a 2002 law that bears his name: the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which tightened corporate accounting regulations in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom financial scandals.

Mr. Oxley has faced criticism for his raising of campaign funds from the banking, insurance, and securities industries that he helps oversee in Congress.

In December, 2003, The Blade ran a three-day series looking at Mr. Oxley and his role as a broker of power politics inside the Washington beltway and the effect that had on voters in Ohio. The series examined his role as a friend to business and his role as co-author of Sarbanes-Oxley.

But the congressman said he s proud of the service he s provided to his constituents helping retain and attract jobs to the district and obtaining funds for infrastructure projects.

Mr. Oxley helped persuade the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in August to reject a Pentagon recommendation to reduce the size of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio, which employs 750 people who make tanks and sections of armored vehicles.

He also obtained funding for the widening of sections of U.S. 30, which runs through much of his district, into a four-lane, limited-access highway.

The opportunities for jobs and economic growth are huge because we made that investment, Mr. Oxley said. I m quite frankly tired of people singling out those kinds of projects as pork because we re saving lives and creating jobs, and what could be a greater investment than that?

Local officials of both political stripes applauded Mr. Oxley as a hard-working representative who addressed their concerns in Washington.

Mansfield Mayor Lydia Reid, a Democrat, credits him with saving her city s Air National Guard base from being shut down during this year s round of Pentagon cutbacks.

I think it was due to his clout in Washington, Ms. Reid said. He worked very hard for us.

Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti, a Republican, said Mr. Oxley boosted his hometown by obtaining funding for the Center for Terrorism Preparedness, which opened five years ago at the University of Findlay. Mike was a very integral part of that, Mr. Iriti said.

Ambitious agenda

Mr. Oxley s colleagues in Congress also were complimentary of his ability to get things done.

Mike has had a very ambitious agenda on the committee, said Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort), a member of the House Financial Services Committee. It s been partly because of his leadership and partly because of the issues that came up under his tenure. I think most people, looking at it objectively, would say he s had a very successful chairmanship.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, called Mr. Oxley a man of integrity.

He s very fair, and I think that s very important, said Mr. Frank, one of the leading liberals in the House. Some people try to take shortcuts on the procedures. He never does that.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said Mr. Oxley s retirement likely would cost the state some clout.

Obviously, though he and I have not shared similar views, his seniority will be lost to Ohio as a whole, and that is indeed a loss, Miss Kaptur said.

Since his first race in 1981, Mr. Oxley has always won re-election comfortably in his district, which includes Allen, Auglaize, Hancock, Wyandot, Hardin, Logan, Marion, Crawford, Richland, Morrow, and Knox counties.

His closest challenge came last year, when Democrat Ben Konop won 41 percent of the vote and carried Allen County.

The state s Republican Party has been rocked this year by ethics and financial scandals, including Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe s indictment last week on charges of laundering money to President Bush s re-election campaign. Mr. Oxley said the state party s troubles played no part in his decision to retire, but Ms. Reid isn t so sure of that.

Last time was the first time he s had any real opposition, she said. Maybe he saw the handwriting on the wall, with all the problems. Time to get out while you can. Certainly, after a sterling career like his, he wouldn t want to go down to defeat.

Mr. Konop, who moved into Mr. Oxley s district in late 2003 to run against him, has since moved back to Toledo to practice law.

He said the congressman s departure could provide an opportunity for Democrats to capture his seat.

I am optimistic today because I think his retirement gives the 4th Congressional District the opportunity to have fresh and vigorous representation, which has been sorely lacking during his tenure in office, Mr. Konop said.

Asked if he would consider moving back into the district for another campaign, Mr. Konop replied, Honestly, I like where I am right now. This is my home. I was born and raised in Lucas County.

Mr. Oxley said he has no plans for what he ll do after he leaves office in early 2007, but Mr. Konop made a prediction.

My guess is Oxley will get a very well-paid lobbying job in Washington, D.C., and be able to play a lot of golf, he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at:smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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