John H. Rousselot, R.I.P.

Before Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Phil Crane or most of the political leaders of the post-war conservative movement had even considered running for office, Californians elected John Rousselot. As soon as Rousselot went to the U.S. House of Representatives he became an overnight star of the right.

The Dec. 15, 1960, issue of HUMAN EVENTS carried portraits of Rousselot and fellow conservative Representative-elect John Ashbrook (R.-Ohio) in a story with the headline: "Don’t You Wish You Had a Congressman Like This?" The issue pointed out that both men were unabashed conservatives who had unseated union-backed Democrats and that they planned to tell how they did it at the the-upcoming first HUMAN EVENTS Political Action Conference.

Along with Ashbrook and Barry Goldwater, Rousselot was an early trailblazer in Congress for the conservatism that would finally triumph in Washington, D.C., when Rousselot’s good friend Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. Because of his longevity, his leadership in Congress on nearly every conservative cause, and his effusive personality, the news that Rousselot had died May 11 of congestive heart failure came as a blow to the many conservatives around the country who had gotten to know him personally over the years.

Rousselot was a native of Los Angeles County, Calif., and a graduate of Principia College in Illinois. As a child he was stricken with polio, which left him with a pronounced limp. But that never got in his way-not when he launched a successful public relations firm in the 1950s, not when he won the presidency of the California Young Republicans, not when he was elected to Congress, and not when he participated with remarkable agility in congressional baseball games.

He was as hard-hitting on the issues as he was on the baseball diamond. In his initial campaign, he called for abolishing the federal income tax, and pulling the U.S. out of the United Nations. He won Richard Nixon’s old seat, defeating Democratic Rep. George Kasem in a dramatic upset.

Although Rousselot’s later admission that he was a member of the controversial John Birch Society didn’t help him, reapportionment was the pivotal cause of his defeat after one term. Yet, in 1970, running in a special election in a more Republican district in California, Rousselot returned to the House for 12 more years, becoming a forceful and respected voice on issues such as deregulation, opposition to increased spending, and abolition of the Food Stamp program. In 1982, he was again defeated, this time because he moved to a more Democratic district after being thrown together with another conservative Republican in redistricting by far-left Democratic Rep. Phil Burton (who called Rousselot "a no-good jerk"). After stints in the Reagan White House and as head of the National Council of Savings Institutions, Rousselot attempted yet another comeback by running for an open House seat in 1992. But long absence from California and his association with savings-and-loan executive Charles Keating led to his defeat by a large margin.

Indefatigable and always good-natured, Rousselot’s never-say-die spirit moved all who knew him. He was 75.