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DeLay’s Woes Shift Spotlight to Baptist Congressman

When Congressman Tom DeLay was forced to step down as House Majority Leader following his indictment alleging involvement in a money-laundering scheme, he was replaced by fellow Southern Baptist Roy Blunt of Missouri. As a result of gaining a new position and more influence, Blunt and his record is receiving more attention and scrutiny.

While Blunt has not been as public of a figure as DeLay, he has worked hard behind the scenes to create a reputation as a staunch conservative. However, while Blunt differs from DeLay by using a less confrontational style, he has also been accused of ethics violations like DeLay. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Blunt is a member of First Baptist Church of Branson, where Jay Scribner recently announced his retirement as pastor after being there 28 years. Scribner was one of the first fundamentalist presidents of the Missouri Baptist Convention, who led FBC Branson to join the lawsuit filed against five Missouri Baptist institutions. Blunt has been described as “close to Scribner.” Blunt’s son, Matt, is currently governor of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Missouri and is scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the MBC later this month.
 
A 1970 graduate of Southwest Baptist University, Blunt served as SBU’s president from 1993 to 1996. He had previously served as a trustee since 1985. Blunt, the keynote speaker at SBU’s May 2005 graduation, was honored with the Roy Blunt Hall of Distinction to recognize his contributions to SBU and public service.
 
Blunt was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. He previously served as Missouri’s Secretary of State. He lost an aggressive campaign for the Republican nomination for governor in 1992. He was defeated by William Webster, who two year later went to prison for conspiracy and embezzlement of state resources.
 
Webster lost in the general election to Democrat Mel Carnahan, a Southern Baptist who died in an airplane crash in 2000 while campaigning against then-Senator John Ashcroft. Carnahan was a former trustee of SBU and the Southern Baptist Foundation, and a former member of the executive board of the MBC.
 
During Blunt’s unsuccessful run for governor, one of the key issues he ran on was the need to strengthen ethics rules concerning politicians and lobbyists. However, like DeLay, Blunt has come under fire for possible ethics violations.
 
While Blunt has denied charges of wrongdoing, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has named him one of “the 13 most corrupt members of Congress.”
 
In 2002 Blunt tried to help tobacco company Philip Morris by amending a homeland security bill to stop the smuggling of contraband cigarettes. At the time Blunt, who had divorced his wife of 31 years earlier that year, had a personal relationship with a lobbyist for the company, Abigail Perlman. Blunt and Perlman later married. Blunt’s son Andrew was also a lobbyist for the company.
 
In 2002, Blunt helped insert a provision into a funding bill for the Iraq war that benefited United Parcel Service and FedEx Corporation. His son Andrew is a lobbyist for UPS.
 
Blunt’s ethics problems may also be related to DeLay’s, since the two are accused of secretly trading funds in ways that benefited Blunt, DeLay and friends and family of the two. Both DeLay’s wife and Blunt’s son Matt are included as beneficiaries of the giving.
 
According to Missouri Ethics Commission records, Blunt’s Rely on Your Beliefs Fund paid a $3,000 fine for improperly concealing fundraising efforts. Blunt has also been linked to Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist recently indicted in a federal corruption and fraud investigation.
 
Despite being indicted, many conservative Christian leaders continue to support DeLay.
 
Following Blunt’s selection as DeLay’s replacement, he is also receiving their support. As James Dobson of Focus on the Family stated, “It is encouraging that the Republicans in the House seem prepared to continue the tradition of clear leadership in Majority Leader DeLay’s stead.”
 
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri