US Rep. John Porter’s example of public service will be sorely missed – Chicago Tribune

The late Sen. John McCain said that there were three political parties in Congress: the Republicans, the Democrats and the Appropriators. U.S. Rep. John Porter, who died last week, was an appropriator, rising to be one of the cardinals of the House and a chairman of one of the 13 appropriations subcommittees. Appropriators can be fiercely partisan, and Porter was proud to be a Republican, but they can understand that, charged with the power of the purse, their responsibilities are to see that federal dollars are responsibly spent and to keep the government running. Both of these goals require compromise and principled bipartisanship.

Porter represented the 10th District of Illinois, covering much of Chicago’s North Shore suburbs. Directly south of Porter’s district was the 9th, represented by our former boss, U.S. Rep. Sid Yates, also a member of the Appropriations Committee and another of the cardinals. Both districts hugged the lakefront.

Yates and Porter served together on the committee for two decades, rising to the top of separate subcommittees. When the Republicans attained the majority in the House, Porter became chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. During the years of Democratic majorities, Yates was chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Working together, the Main Street Republican Porter and the lakefront liberal Democrat Yates made sure that federal dollars were brought to Illinois.

One of their most important collaborations involved the cleanup of toxaphene from Lake Michigan. Toxaphene was a pesticide that, following the banning of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, became the most widely used cotton crop insect spray. In 1980, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that toxaphene caused cancer in animals but was not ready to state that it was a carcinogen for humans. Monitoring stations operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered that toxaphene, carried by the wind, had infused Lake Michigan, and toxaphene levels were found in lake trout at twice the maximum contaminant levels established by the Food and Drug Administration.

Recognizing that opposition from chemical manufacturers and cotton farmers would be strong, Yates sought the support of Porter as they introduced an amendment to the EPA’s appropriations bill to ban toxaphene and to provide funds for the cleanup of Lake Michigan. They worked together, and the amendment passed.

In another example, at the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s administration, David Stockman, head of the Office of Management and Budget, proposed eliminating federal support of public television and radio, claiming it was unnecessary spending. It was clear that, without such subsidies, both programs could not long survive. This time Porter asked for Yates’ assistance to gather Democratic votes to kill the proposal and continue the vital funding. Together, they kept the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio alive.

Following the 1980 census and the decennial congressional redistricting, Porter and Yates were thrown into the same district. Porter called Yates at home to tell him that he would not run against Yates but instead had decided to move farther north and to run instead for the seat vacated by retiring Republican Robert McClory. Porter and Yates discussed at length how important it was for the Illinois delegation to have both Republican and Democratic seats on the Appropriations Committee.

Porter was a decent and compassionate person. He and Yates represented the best example of public servants, willing to set aside party politics for the good of the state and the people they represented. They are both sorely missed today.

Michael C. Dorf and George Van Dusen are the authors of “Clear It With Sid!: Sidney R. Yates and Fifty Years of Presidents, Pragmatism, and Public Service.”

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