Last week, House Speaker John Boehner announced that Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Mobile’s own Rep. Bradley Byrne would be filling two vacancies on the powerful House Rules Committee.

Those two vacancies opened up in January after House Republican leadership removed Reps. Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent, both of Florida, from the committee. At the time the move appeared to be payback for the pair voting against Boehner for House Speaker.

Interestingly these two slots went to two somewhat junior House members in Byrne, a term-and-a-half member and Newhouse, a freshman elected last fall.

Rep. Bradley Byrne joined the House Rules Committee last week.

Rep. Bradley Byrne joined the House Rules Committee last week.

In his new role on the Rules Committee, Byrne will have a say in how bills are considered once they reach the House floor, including the amount of debate time and what amendments will be considered. That’s very significant considering anything voted on in the House of Representatives must pass muster with this committee.

One thing is clear with this development — for better or for worse, Byrne is likely going to be loyal to Boehner and less inclined to support any so-called Tea Party rebellions against House GOP leadership. Byrne’s spokesman Seth Morrow explained to Lagniappe the assignment is part and parcel of the congressman’s goal of accomplishing things on behalf of Alabama’s first congressional district.

“As Congressman Byrne said during his campaign, he wants to be a workhorse and not a showhorse,” Morrow wrote in an email last week. “I think he has established that identity in his first year in Congress. The Rules Committee assignment is just another opportunity for him to advocate on issues like Red Snapper, the Littoral Combat Ship, and a new I-10 Bridge.”

Morrow did insist the new position won’t alter his judgment as a “conservative reformer.”

“In no way will the position force the Congressman to change his core values and positions as a conservative reformer. Sometimes Congressman Byrne agrees with the House leadership and sometimes he doesn’t,” Morrow continued. “Ultimately, the only people he is accountable to are the people of Southwest Alabama. Most every constituent we have spoken with is excited about this new role and the opportunities it provides for our area.”

More often than not, Boehner has been a formidable speaker. When tough votes for Republicans loomed because of opposition from conservatives, Boehner has led the GOP caucus through those minefields. So aligning with Boehner may not be that bad a move for Byrne politically and more important for his constituents in the first congressional district.
But Bradley Byrne hasn’t necessarily always shied away from the showhorse role.

He has had quite the evolution in his 20-plus year political career. This latest chapter playing the role of a conservative Republican, loyal to House leadership might be something of a gamble if the Tea Party movement makes a comeback, but that doesn’t look very likely to happen, at least not when it comes to the politics southwest Alabama. 

In the mid-1990s, Byrne, was an elected Democrat on a Democratically controlled State School Board, which was often times at odds with then-Republican Gov. Fob James, at time when the Alabama Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, was still a powerful force in Montgomery.

Byrne would later change his party affiliation to Republican and find himself similarly a critic of James’ successor, Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman. But never in his role as a member of the school board could you say Byrne was a go-along-to-get-along member.

Later he would be elected to the state senate at a time when Democrats were also still running the show. But it probably wasn’t until he was appointed as chancellor of the Alabama two-year college system and cracked down on improprieties within it, particularly at Mobile’s own Bishop State Community College, where Byrne was both a showhorse and workhorse, due to the high-profile nature of the actors in this saga. Those included then-State Rep. Yvonne Kennedy, the president of Bishop State and David Thomas, an embattled administrator at the institution.

And then of course, there was Byrne’s run for governor, when he won the 2010 Republican primary but was beaten in the runoff by the current governor, Robert Bentley.

In this new role, there’s less likelihood for much political theater from Bradley Byrne. But at a time when there’s a perceived dissatisfaction with the status quo in Washington, it’s an interesting call to cozy up to the status quo.

Should Byrne be able to accomplish having more Littoral Combat Ships being built at Austal in front of the backdrop of a new I-10 bridge, then this strategy will prove to be a winner for him.

For now, it’s still wait and see.