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Kline named top House education, labor Republican

ST. PAUL - John Kline used to carry the "football" containing nuclear codes for President Ronald Reagan; now he will carry Republican ideals in the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee.

The 28-member Republican Steering Committee Wednesday gave the Minnesota congressman the nod over Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Joe Wilson of South Carolina as top education and labor Republican. No vote totals were released.

Issues in front of the committee are not those Kline ran on when he got into politics - armed services, intelligence and veterans' matters. But he said that in his four two-year terms he has gained education and labor experience.

"I have been engaged in the debate and the discussion on the major issues that are right there on the front burner," he said in an interview shortly after being named to the GOP post.

Even with Democrats in control of the House, ranking Republicans often have considerable say in committee activities. As ranking member, Kline will be the chief spokesman for his party on issues that come before the panel.

Kline predicted a good relationship with Chairman George Miller, D-Calif. Miller echoed the sentiment.

"Rep. Kline has been a diligent, hard-working member of our committee and I want to congratulate him on his new post," Miller said. "Our committee has a proud tradition of working together in a bipartisan way to improve the lives of America's children, students, workers and families. I look forward to continuing this tradition and working with him in the busy months ahead to make college more affordable, strengthen retirement security and fix our broken health care system so that all Americans have access to affordable, quality health care."

The Education and Labor Committee wields considerable power over a wide range of issues, from Head Start to college to workers rights matters.

Among the major labor-related issues the committee will debate is health care reform. President Barack Obama this week elevated the issue and Congress is expected to deal with his and other health-care proposals in the coming months.

Kline replaces Rep. Buck McKeon of California, who recently became the Armed Services Committee's top Republican.

While being busy as top committee Republican, Kline said he can continue to work on military-related issues that took him to Congress.

"I still expect to be able to bring those experiences to play," he said.

However, House leaders say he will have to give up his Intelligence Committee assignment. "I am complaining," he said.

Minnesota constituents should see Kline almost as much as they have in the past. He said he plans to continue flying home nearly every weekend, although he admitted the new responsibilities could keep him in Washington a few more weekends.

Constituents will benefit from his new leadership position, he said, because "it puts me in a position to sort of amplify their values and their positions."

Kline lives in Lakeville and serves the 2nd Congressional District, which covers southeastern Twin Cities suburbs and nearby rural areas.

A Pennsylvania native, Kline served his career in the Marine Corps. It was then that he carried what is known as the "football," a briefcase containing secret codes a president would need to launch nuclear weapons.

Besides Education and Labor, Kline serves on committees dealing with armed services and House ethics.

With Kline's election, he joins other Minnesota representatives with leadership responsibilities. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Chisholm leads the transportation committee and Rep. Collin Peterson of Detroit Lakes is agriculture chairman. Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul is senior Democratic whip.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.