- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Majority Leader Dick Armey did not win the flat tax that spurred him to run for office, but he departs Washington with his cowboy-boots image and one more surprise as he exits the stage: He may go work for the ACLU.

A conservative Texas Republican with a libertarian bent, Mr. Armey says he is considering consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union on privacy issues now that he is retiring from Congress after 18 years. It's not as big a leap as it may appear, despite the ACLU's left-leaning image.

Mr. Armey has worked with the ACLU to protest what he considers government invasions of privacy. He also opposed Attorney General John Ashcroft's proposed Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) that would have encouraged Americans to look out for suspicious activity and report anything unusual.

"He is as passionate about privacy as we are," said Laura W. Murphy, ACLU Washington office director.

Mr. Armey does not miss the irony in the proposed alliance.

"The Dick Armey of circa 1984 would not have considered coming within an inch of his life" of the ACLU, said Mr. Armey, who entered Congress in 1985 a pesky gadfly and at 62 leaves as the second-highest-ranking House member.

But challenging institutions is classic Mr. Armey.

Early in his congressional career, he was dismissed as a quixotic lawmaker who slept in the House gym and had quirky ideas, like eliminating Social Security and farm subsidies.

He ends his nine terms as part of a more conservative mainstream in Washington, where the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

"There's very little I did in my 18 years that someone else could not have done. It was just my good fortune to be able to do it," Mr. Armey said.

He will be honored with his portrait to be displayed in the Capitol. Fellow Republicans asked Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, to approve the painting, to be funded with private money. As the Administration Committee chairman, Mr. Ney can approve portraits of House speakers, committee chairmen and those with distinguished service or other special circumstances.

"He's a great guy. I was happy to do it," Mr. Ney said.

Mr. Armey entered Congress as a foe of big government, the minimum wage and the Internal Revenue Service. But his last big legislative achievement was helping pass a measure to create the vast Homeland Security Department, the anti-terrorism agency that will merge dozens of agencies and some 170,000 employees. Mr. Armey has said the department consolidates several agencies so it keeps with his philosophy of shrinking government.

"Armey culturally, definitely represented the sagebrush rebellion with cowboy boots, a deep tan, his deep smoker's laugh," said Kenneth R. Weinstein, director of the Washington office of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.

He was an economics professor at what was then North Texas State University near Dallas, when he won an upset victory over a Democratic incumbent.

Mr. Armey helped develop the Contract With America, playing a part in the 1994 "revolution," when Republicans won a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. An ally of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he became majority leader without a challenge.

"I'm pretty much the same guy with the same values, the same hopes and dreams as when I came to Washington," he says. A country music fan, Mr. Armey quotes a line from a Waylon Jennings song: "I may be used, but I'm not used up."


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