Republican Congressman Richard Baker sat in his Cannon Building office one recent afternoon, taking one call after another from fellow Louisiana lawmakers. Back home, the legislature was redrawing congressional districts and nobody, it seemed, was safe.

"Oh my Lord," he said in bewilderment as he heard the latest rumor from Rep. Jimmy Hayes, a Democrat. The rumor - that the legislature would wait until July to act - proved false, but Rep. Baker's concern was well founded.

When the dust settled on Tuesday, Rep. Baker had a reshaped district that maintained his Baton Rouge base, but stretched west toward Alexandria, the home of fellow Republican Clyde Holloway. It is a district, said a relieved aide, that requires work but can be won.

Shaper of Compromises

Rep. Baker isn't the only one with an interest in Louisiana redistricting. Though still very much a junior member, the three-term lawmaker is quickly emerging as a force to be reckoned with among House Banking Committee Republicans, particularly on issues involving thrifts.

Last year, he led efforts to overhaul the qualified-thrift-lender test, which savings and loan executives said had become too restrictive.

The issue reopened wounds from the 1989 thrift bailout debate, but Rep. Baker fashioned a compromise acceptable to both thrifts and their critics.

This year, he is targeting the Federal Home Loan Bank System. Rep. Baker wants the system to consolidate and he is particularly anxious to cut back a provision in the 1989 thrift law that mandates a minimum payment of $300 million a year from the system to help the savings and loan bailout.

The prospects for his proposal brightened last week when banking committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez agreed to hold hearings on the bill.

The sessions are scheduled for June 9-11, a week before the full committee is expected to take up a housing authorization bill. As a result, Rep. Baker has a real opportunity to add his package to the housing bill.

"He wanted the hearings before the full committee markup, and he wouldn't let go until he got them," said James J. Butera, a financial-institutions lobbyist who represents numerous thrifts.

He called Rep. Baker and another GOP member, Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida, "two tough guys." If they were part of the House Democratic majority, "there's no telling what they would be able to accomplish."

Winning by 'Sticking It Out'

"You have to be careful when you pick your issues," Rep. Baker said. "You can't fight everything just because you're a Republican. You have to have a determined economic and social agenda and pick priorities over which you're not willing to compromise.

"For me, the QTL battle was such an issue," he added. "We felt we could win by sticking it out, and we did."

Rep. Baker's influence on the committee is all but certain to increase next year - assuming he makes it back.

Now ranked ninth of 20 Republicans, he will move up at least one notch - with the retirement of Rep. Chalmers Wylie, R-Ohio - and probably several more.

Flag-Bearer for Deregulation

A former real estate broker, the boyish-looking, 44-year-old Louisianan is an outspoken advocate of industry deregulation.

"If Montgomery Ward and Sears can make consumer loans and securities firms can issue debt, why can't banks get into securities and other financial-services activities?" he said.

"In 50 years, someone is going to look back at this period and wonder what we were doing."

Before coming to Washington, Rep. Baker spent 14 years in the Louisiana House. Elected as a Democrat, he changed parties during the Regan era and describes himself as a fiscal conservative "with more moderate views on social issues."

Innovation in Community Reinvestment

Conservative or moderate, he clearly prefers more creative approaches to issues like community reinvestment that traditionally have divided the banking committee on partisan lines.

Mr. Baker would like to see loans obtained to meet federal or state laws involving health or the environment - such as financing of pollution controls - count toward meeting a bank's community reinvestment targets.

"I have dairy farmers that are being told they have to put in treatment plants for manure," he said. "Dairymen are very marginal operators. My solution is to provide an incentive for banks to lend the money."

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