Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R)
Elected: Dec. 1993, 8th full term.
Born: Feb. 6, 1934, Pipestone, MN .
Home: Grand Rapids.
Education: Calvin Col., 1952-55; U. of CA, A.B. 1956, Ph.D. 1960, U. of Heidelberg, Germany, 1961-62.
Religion: Christian Reformed.
Family: Married (Johanna); 4 children.
Elected office: Kent Cnty. comm., 1974–82, Chmn., 1978–81; MI House of Reps., 1982–86; MI Senate, 1986–93, Pres. pro tem, 1990–93.
Professional Career: Prof., Calvin Col., 1966–82.
The congressman from the 3rd District is Republican Vernon Ehlers, the winner of a December 1993 special election. Ehlers grew up in small-town Minnesota, the son of a Christian Reform minister. He attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, got a Ph.D. in physics at the University of California at Berkeley, and then returned to Calvin to teach for 17 years. In 1974, concerned about local waste management, he was elected Kent County commissioner. In 1982, he won a seat in the state House, and in 1986, the state Senate. After Republican Rep. Paul Henry died in July 1993, Ehlers ran to succeed him. He won the November primary with 33% of the vote, and a month later easily defeated the Democrat 67%-23%.
|Vernon Ehlers (R)||203,799||(61%)||($319,953)|
|Henry Sanchez (D)||117,961||(35%)||($4,209)|
|Erwin Haas (Lib)||11,758||(4%)|
|Vernon Ehlers (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (63%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (70%), 2000 (65%), 1998 (73%), 1996 (69%), 1994 (74%), 1993 (67%)
Ehlers brought to House Republicans, then entering their 40th year in the minority, a majority mindset. That brought him to the attention of Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who as speaker named him to his transition team after the historic 1994 election gave control of the chamber to the GOP. He assigned Ehlers, the first research physicist in Congress, to lead efforts to revamp the House’s computer system (there were 11 different e-mail systems). In 1995 Ehlers responded with a system making available vote tallies, public-hearing transcripts, and texts of amendments and bills, plus the Thomas Library of Congress website. He was responsible for convincing the House to migrate from onetime market leader Lotus Notes to the now ubiquitous Microsoft e-mail program.
His religious faith and scientific training have left Ehlers with a middle-of-the-House voting record. Ehlers often insists on research to determine public needs. In 2004 he passed an amendment to the transportation bill pegging future research at 1% of total spending. In 2007 he got the House to add $16 million to improve the training of math and science teachers, though President Bush vetoed the spending bill. When controversy arose over the composition of National Academy of Sciences advisory panels, he said, “A single, guiding principle should be applied—select the most qualified person for the job.” But he added that on presidential appointments, “it is important that the scientists be in tune with the philosophy of the appointing president.” A self-described nerd in high school, Ehlers is fond of telling high school groups: “They shouldn’t look down on nerds because if they are not a nerd, they are going to end up working for one.”
Ehlers chaired the Science subcommittee overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency and oceans programs until Republicans lost the majority in 2007. He sponsored several laws that won widespread backing, including one to study invasive species and another for a $9 million electric barrier in the Illinois River to prevent Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes. He has continued to press with some success for more spending to solve Great Lakes problems. In 2008, he proposed a compact of eight Great Lakes states to prevent water diversions and the same year got committee approval for $775 million to restore contaminated areas of the lakes.
Ehlers was one of the Republicans who voted to repeal the section of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Bush administration’s antiterrorism law, allowing agents access to library records. He also has been one of the House Republicans to oppose oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to force the Republican leadership to remove the issue from must-pass appropriation bills.
He is the former chairman of the House Administration Committee, which handles the managerial issues of running the House of Representatives as well as issues related to the conduct of elections. He led the debate on the bill to require photo IDs for voting, which passed in 2006. Ehlers has a penchant for compromise. As head of a three-member task force on California Republican Rep. Robert Dornan’s challenge to his 984-vote defeat in 1996, Ehlers said there was evidence of vote fraud but not enough to vacate the seat.
Ehlers refuses to take more than 30% of his campaign money from outside the district and has been re-elected by wide margins.