Indiana: Fifth District|
Rep. Stephen Buyer (R)
Last Updated June 8, 1999
Across the plains of northern Indiana runs the Hoosier Heartland Corridor: The HHC, a publicist's name for U.S. 24 as it runs west from Fort Wayne along the Wabash River through Wabash, Peru and Logansport, and then overland toward the Illinois prairie. Scattered on the major east-west railroad and highway lines that connect the East Coast and Chicago, the Hoosier Heartland's small cities and large towns display a geometric order and heartland American values. It is also an economically creative place: In Kokomo, Elwood Haynes built one of the first gas-powered automobiles and invented stainless steel. This area was hit hard by recession in the early 1980s, but it has rebounded smartly: Its large factories, like Delco and Chrysler, are expanding, and its small manufacturers have proved high-skill and adaptive. This is a part of America with little immigrant heritage from the early waves of immigration, relatively few blacks, and only a handful of the more recent Latin and Asian immigrants. Basic values have not been shaken so much here as in other parts of the nation: This area has one of the nation's highest percentages of households with families, married couples and children. It is also a place that has given America such icons as James Dean, who grew up in Fairmount and Cole Porter, who grew up in Peru.
The 5th Congressional District occupies most of the land on either side of the HHC. There are no big cities within the district; it just skirts Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Gary. Though farming is important here, factories large and small employ many more people; this is one of the centers of American manufacturing. Since the Civil War, this has mostly been Republican country, and the western part of the district was the home base of House Minority Leader (1959-65) Charles Halleck. But in much of the 1970s and 1980s, Democrats were competitive.
The 5th District's congressman is Steve Buyer (pronounced BOOyer), a Republican elected in 1992. Buyer grew up in White County, graduated from The Citadel, served in the Army, worked in Indianapolis and started a family law practice in Monticello, where he joined all the civic organizations. A major in the military reserves, he was called to active duty in fall 1990, serving as legal adviser at a prisoner-of-war camp in the Persian Gulf. Buyer was enraged that two-thirds of House Democrats, including the 5th District's Democratic Congressman Jim Jontz, voted against the war. After he returned to Indiana, where he was White County Republican vice chairman, he began making speeches around the Hoosier Heartland attacking Jontz on his Gulf war stand. In October 1991 Buyer met with all of Jontz's former opponents, then launched his own campaign. In 1992 he focused on the House bank and post office scandals and called for term limits and application of laws passed by Congress to Congress itself, an anticipation of the Contract with America. He attacked Jontz for switching committees in order to protect the spotted owl in Oregon. Jontz was a skilled politician, but Buyer won 51%-49%, carrying the Hoosier Heartland but losing counties at the edge of the district.
Buyer has made far more of a legislative mark than one would have expected back in 1993 for a conservative-to-moderate Republican in a then-Democratic House. On the Veterans' Affairs Committee, he has spent much time on ''Gulf war syndrome.'' Since his return from the Gulf, Buyer has suffered from flu, pneumonia, spastic colon, kidney infection, bronchitis and a constant cough. He investigated and discovered there may have been chemical weapons in a bunker destroyed by U.S. Army troops at Khamisiyay, Iraq. In 1994 he successfully co-sponsored legislation that allows the VA to compensate Gulf war veterans suffering from chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses that became manifest to a degree of 10% or more within a year of the Gulf war--a real departure in veterans' law. Buyer supports continued investigation for Gulf war illness. On Veterans, Buyer also worked on the Benefits Improvement Act of 1996 and on the measure to extend veterans' preferences (to the federal judiciary, for the first time).
In 1997 Buyer became chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of Armed Services, which originates legislation extending the U.S. military presence in Bosnia. In October 1995 he sponsored a resolution with fellow Gulf war veteran Paul McHale saying that U.S. deployment should not be a requisite for a peace agreement; it passed 315-104. In December 1995 he and Ike Skelton wrote a resolution reiterating opposition to deployment; it passed 287-141. But after visiting Bosnia with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in December 1997, he agreed--at Newt Gingrich's urging--to sponsor a deployment bill, but with strings: Buyer wants to set measurable objectives for implementing the Dayton accords and authorize U.S. partial or total withdrawal if they are not met. ''I'm going to try to change the dynamic so we can push these people in Bosnia to either start moving on the civil implementations of the peace accord, or figure out what they want to do with their own destiny.'' He also held hearings on sexual misconduct in the military, bringing to light problems with recruit housing and training.
On local issues, Buyer co-sponsored the Step 21 funding formula in the 1998 transportation bill, which gave Indiana an extra $1.2 billion; Governor Frank O'Bannon promised it would be used to complete four-laning the HHC. Buyer has blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from creating a Grand Kankakee Marsh Wildlife Refuge until it works with the Army Corps of Engineers on flood control.
Buyer is best known nationally for his work on the Judiciary Committee on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. He used his time for questions to compare Clinton's conduct with military standards. ''Should we ask the members of the armed forces to accept a code of conduct that is higher for troops than for the commander-in-chief?'' And he criticized advocates of civil rights who seemed prepared to condone perjury in civil rights cases. He got into one military appropriations bill an amendment that would subject the president and civilian Pentagon officials to military standards on lying and adultery, but it was not binding.
Buyer has proved very strong politically for this not-too-long-ago Democratic seat; he was re-elected 63%-36% in 1998.
Safe. Not even his high-profile role as a House manager during the impeachment trial should threaten Buyer's re-election prospects in this Republican-leaning district.
- Pop. 1990: 554,240
- 57.7% rural;
13.8% age 65+;
- 96.8% White,
0.4% Amer. Indian,
1.2% Hispanic origin;
63.3% married couple families;
30.6% married couple fams. w. children;
31.1% college educ.;
median household income: $27,893;
per capita income: $12,252;
median gross rent: $241;
median house value: $46,700.
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