WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mary Rose Oaker, a liberal Democrat who has grown increasingly sympathetic to bankers' appeals for deregulation, is fighting for her political life today in Ohio, one of eight states holding primary elections that could affect banking legislation.
Rep. Oaker, the sixth-ranking Democrat on the House Banking Committee, was identified as one of the worst abusers in the House Bank scandal. The 213 overdrafts she was said to have written, plus a series of critical articles in the local press, have done her serious damage.
If she wins today's primary, she will almost certainly win election to a ninth term from her heavily Democratic Cleveland district. She would be in line to chair one of the panel's important subcommittees - possibly the key financial institutions panel - and would probably be a strong advocate of legislation to overhaul the industry.
"She's an urban liberal, so obviously on some issues, like the Community Reinvestment Act, she'll never vote with us," said Edward L. Yingling, executive director of government relations for the American Bankers Association.
"In the past few years, though, she's made a real effort to sit down and talk with us, especially on structural issues," Mr. Yingling said. He noted, in particular, Rep. Oakar's sponsorship of a law that permits banks to convert thrifts into branches.
A loss, however, would deprive the industry of one more House Banking Committee veteran supportive of the industry on at least some key issues. Among the others departing are Carroll Hubbard of Kentucky, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, and Rep. Doug Barnard of Georgia, all senior Democrats and industry allies.
Campbell in a Struggle
Also of interest to the banking industry, Rep. Tom Campbell, a Republican who sits on the House Banking Committee, is locked in a tight primary for one of the two Senate seats up for grabs in California this year. Rep. Campbell is seeking the nomination to run for the seat held by Alan Cranston, a Democrat who is a Senate Banking Committee member.
The other incumbent California senator, Republican John Seymour, holds the seat of former Sen. Pete Wilson, now governor. Mr. Seymour may face Dianne Feinstein, former San Francisco mayor, in November.
With California home to many of the nation's biggest financial institutions, one of the California senators is sure to end up on the banking panel, said James Butera, a thrift lobbyist.
In other races today with banking and financial implications:
* Former Rep. John Rousselot is running in a Republican congressional primary in California. Mr. Rousselot, a staunch conservative who would be expected to favor industry deregulation, previously served as president of the National Council of Savings Institutions.
* Rep. Marge Roukema, a Republican member of the House Banking Committee who has been liberal on social issues, faces three opponents in the New Jersey primary. Although the clear favorite in a strong Republican district, some reports have seen an upset in the making.
* Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, faces a vigorous challenge from Chris McNair, a county commissioner who is seeking to become the first black Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate.
Oakar Draws Most Attention
Most of the industry's attention is focused on Rep. Oakar in Ohio. Peter Brereton, a lobbyist for the Savings and Community Bankers Association, the newly formed thrift trade group, described the Rep. Oakar as a key player for the banking industry.
Mr. Brereton, who had been a lobbyist for Ameritrust Co. of Cleveland before it was merged into Society Corp., said Rep. Oakar has developed strong relationships with the chief executive officers of the state's major banks.
"In a city that has so many headquarters of banks," he said, "it becomes a jobs issue."