Kanjorski Says He Lacked Fire In The Belly In Failed Reelection Bid

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WASHINGTON — Looking back on his bid for a 14th term in the House it's clear that Democrat Paul Kanjorski, the long-time champion for credit unions, lacked a certain enthusiasm that helped secure his previous 13 two-year terms.

Kanjorski, who still can't call the man who defeated him by name (he referred to Republican Lou Barletta as "my opponent" three times during a recent lunch interview), even still questions whether he had the requisite fire in the belly to overcome the Republican landslide that swept him and more than two dozen other Democratic veterans from office last fall.

Looking Back On 50 Years Of Service

As he clears up his affairs, the long-time lawmaker scans more than 50 years of government and private-sector work of which he can be proud.

He remembers as a House page in 1953 meeting President Dwight Eisenhower and says he's gotten to know every president since then. As a page he was in the House chambers the day in 1954 when Puerto Rican activists fired shots and helped carry out the wounded on stretchers.

Before entering politics, Kanjorski practiced law in the coal-mining part of Pennsylvania where he grew up, often helping coal miners and their widows obtain black lung benefits. He also served as a worker's compensation administrative law judge for the state of Pennsylvania, then as assistant Solicitor for the City of Nanticoke, where he still maintains a home, and served as assistant solicitor to several other communities.

His crowning achievements will be more closely remembered during the 2009 and 2010 debate on the Wall Street reform bill, which he helped draft as a chairman of one of the House Financial Services' subcommittees.

Kanjorski was responsible for important provisions requiring real estate appraisal standards and for the controversial "too big to fail" provision that creates a panel monitoring the health of the biggest financial institutions. He refers to it as the "Kanjorski amendment."

CU's HR 1151 Champion

But for credit unions, Kanjorksi will always be remembered for his championing of HR 1151, the 1998 CU Membership Access Act, which cemented his position as the leading congressional advocate for credit unions. Since then he has sponsored important bills easing regulatory burden for credit unions and the 2009 bill creating the corporate credit union bailout.

What made him such a successful advocate for credit unions was the fact that he is a true believer in credit unions and the concept of democratically controlled cooperatives, but also that he prides himself in being able to work with members of both parties.

It was his work with Republican Steve LaTourette of Ohio while the GOP controlled the House that facilitated passage of HR 1151, he recalls.

"The benefit I brought to the credit union movement is I could generally figure out what we wanted and what we could get done," he asserted.

When he woke up on election day Kanjorski said he was confident in surviving a third race against 54-year-old Barletta, the mayor of the city of Hazelton who Kanjorski had beaten twice before, easily in 2002 and just barely in 2008.

After all, he recalled, he had survived a close Barletta challenge the last time, even as the polls had him trailing in the final days of the campaign.

Tsunami Wasn't Counted On

"To be honest with you, I thought we had a better campaign and were better situated than any of the three elections we had against my opponent," he stated. "What we didn't count on was the tsunami."

He said if he lost, he wanted it to be by a clear count (he ended up losing 55% to 45%). "I remember thinking, 'if we go down I want it to be enough so that we don't have a recount,' so that it's just over and done with."

What is certain to be his last campaign was sure to be the toughest for Kanjorski, who at 26 years in the House had ascended to a leadership post on the Financial Services Committee as chairman of the subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises.

He was afraid if he hadn't run for reelection the House leaders would have left him off the House-Senate conference committee that drafted the final bill.

That position gave him a podium for raising some of the issues he felt strongly about and for leaving a mark in Congress.

Painting A Target On His Back

But it also made him a target for voters who blamed Congress for going easy on Wall Street and for the unpopular banking bailout, known as Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The populist uprising that swept the Republicans back into control of the House were focused in on this, even though it was a Republican administration that created the TARP.

Kanjorski said he was a little apprehensive in deciding to run again, but knew if he didn't his role would be diminished in crafting the landmark Wall Street bill, known now as the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act.

In addition, as election day approached and it became likely the Democrats would lose control of the House, the prospect of returning to the minority was not appealing to Kanjorski.

"If the Democrats were to lose the majority I didn't want to go back as part of the minority," he said he remembered thinking prophetically at the time.

Tea Party Upheaval

Now he see the upheaval caused by the emergence of the Tea Party and other right wing groups that are seeking to rewrite the way business is done on Capitol Hill.

"They think they're going to revolutionize the place. They're not," said Kanjorski. "Everybody feels the same way when they get here."

"This is a good time to leave," he said.

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