When news reports surfaced yesterday afternoon about former Rep. Chris Lee's unfortunate extracurricular activities, we were as shocked as everyone else by the matter. Lee, after all, had impressed this blog with a rather rapid rise within the ranks of the GOP, going from a freshman in a weak minority to a powerful member of the Ways and Means Committee's majority. Lee had benefited, of course, by being on the right team—a GOP majority led by a serious-minded Speaker in John Boehner and a tightly-disciplined Majority Leader in the form of Eric Cantor. But we had always seen that as a two-way street, with Lee bringing a certain savvy and real-world experience that had benefited his party, too.
So, we were saddened and shocked by his very rapid, very public collapse yesterday.
Frankly, we'd prefer not to comment at all on matters of this nature—no doubt Mr. Lee and his family are having a very difficult day, and we can only wish the entire Lee family two things: healing and forgiveness. But while we hate wading into the most intimate of human tragedies, we at Niagara Times know we would be remiss in our role as one of the most influential blogs in Western New York if we let the matter pass without comment and a bit of analysis.
First off, Lee's political demise is a blow to this region, which had, under the leadership of men like Senator George Maziarz, as well as Mr. Lee and his predecessor Tom Reynolds, finally become a real political powerhouse at both the state and federal levels. Losing Lee's powerful perch at Ways and Means is regrettable, to say the least. And, frankly, after the "tickle parties" of former Rep. Eric Massa, who hailed from the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier, this is a spotlight we'd rather not have thrown on Western New York. So, in both of those senses, we'd caution those would-be political pundits enjoying Lee's demise to contemplate what our region just lost.
Fortunately, the bad news ends there. Mr. Lee was, despite a promising start, far from irreplaceable. And, given the pro-Republican tilt of the 26th Congressional District, we will comfortably predict the district stays in the hands of the GOP—which is good, as regressing to representation by a member of the weak Democratic minority would ensure our region would be treated as a political backwater at the federal level.
That GOP tilt, which respected political pundit Charlie Cook sets at "R+6," is good, too, in another sense: the local Republican Party offers a well-oiled machine that can offer up a quality replacement for Mr. Lee. We have no doubt a capable consensus leader will emerge to stand for election to the 26th District seat.
One other observation, too, is in order: the rapidity of Mr. Lee's fall, from the emergence of the scandal to his resignation announcement, speaks volumes about the leadership of Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor. The duo are a marked improvement over both Pelosi-Hoyer and the previous GOP team of Dennis Hastert and Tom Delay. The leadership didn't dither here, and Mr. Lee took his medicine and prevented scandal from weighing down the GOP's agenda—something for which, given the battle to stop Obamacare, we should all thank Mr. Lee.
In the end, though, we return to our first thought: Mr. Lee erred personally, something all too common these days. We consider it now a private matter between him and his wife, and would hope the media would do the same. We again hope for nothing but the best for the Lees in what will be a trying time for their marriage, and we hope that reconciliation and healing come quickly—because some things are far more important in this all-too-brief life than politics.