Living Columns & Blogs

Sea Foam: Friendship follows Boehner to Washington

Thanks to Jim Webb of Hilton Head Island for sharing his tongue-in-cheek report on watching longtime friend U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, become Speaker of the House.

Webb and his wife, Emily, were joined on the special trip to Washington, D.C., by Pete and Peggy Dobrozsi of Beaufort, also longtime friends and allies of Boehner.

A recent profile in The New Yorker magazine said, "(Boehner's) political formation was influenced by a man named Pete Dobrozsi, the lobbyist for Armco Steel at the time, who took Boehner under his wing. Armco, the biggest employer in Boehner's district, was feeling squeezed by foreign competition and by federal regulation, and Dobrozsi sensed in Boehner a sympathetic soul."

A third close friend from the Armco Steel days, Dick Slagle, made the oversized gavel used by Boehner Jan. 5 as he took over for Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

"Mister Speaker"

By Jim Webb

I was a lobbyist. I like admitting that. It's one of the 10 steps to recovering and being admitted back into the real world. You have to first acknowledge what you are before you can be cured.

The job, though, caused me to meet and be a part of the early political life of the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner. We even owned a legitimate business together for 20 years. That's how my wife, Emily, and I could afford to become residents of Hilton Head Island more than eight years ago.

Let's fast forward from there to 2010: Boehner is the Minority Leader of the House and the polls say Republicans could possibly take control of the House in the Nov. 2 election. My phone rings in October. John is on a bus doing about 100 stops in 21 days. The polls are looking good. He could be the next speaker. We catch up on family stuff for a few minutes and then I tell him that if he becomes speaker, we're coming to Washington, D.C., to be a part of a party I knew would happen. His comment was, "Yeah, along with my other million friends."

You know the results of the November elections. Our friend and business partner was to be sworn in as the Speaker of the House for the 112th Congress. We had an invitation in hand to be part of the process. I thought, "We're there!"

Since we would be going to Washington in January, it was time to check our "winter" wardrobe. It's amazing what happens after eight years here. I found one dark suit in the back of the closet. Fortunately, it almost fit. The overcoat I thought I had must have gone as a tax deduction a few years earlier.

The only thing I had in stock to protect my bald head was a golf hat, and Emily said, "No way."

A reconnaissance trip to Belk yielded one black overcoat in my size. I didn't even wait for the "senior day" special. Em found me a sporty hat and I was set. I'm not sure about Emily's clothing adventure, all I know is that as we packed, I felt we were going on two different trips. She must have been staying longer.

You'll recall that Boehner comes from a family of 12 children. Do you know how many relatives that can produce? The number is staggering. Emily and I, along with a million folks with the name Boehner, arrived at the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel. We were just steps from the Capitol, which is pretty cool except with me having a bad back and Em waiting on Medicare to get a new knee, cabs seemed like the right transportation option. This left little use for my new Belk attire.

Our first affair was at the infamous Capitol Hill Club. That's the "Republican Club," not to be confused with -- you guessed it -- the "Democratic Club." A wrong move could get you the same results of Crips getting into Bloods territory. Elephants and past Republican presidential pictures were everywhere. The fare was "Everything Cincinnati." We stuffed ourselves with Skyline chili and Graeter's ice cream, along with some adult beverages.

Friends gave John a beautiful picture for his new office. John promised us he could get through the next day without getting too caught up in his emotions. Some of us for some reason just make him want to cry. I don't know who.

Wednesday was "Swearing-In Day." I thought we would be watching the festivities from a video viewing area. The gallery is reasonably small and there are a million Boehners who rank above Emily and me for seating. We were told to report to the speaker's office, Room 242, by 11 a.m. Security knew we were coming. I left my new Belk purchase in the hotel room since we were going through security and I didn't want to expose it to excessive radiation.

Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi must have known she was losing because she and John had already traded offices. Over the door to the office it read, "Speaker of the House John Boehner." The speaker's office is not an office but a complex. There are conference rooms, reception rooms, leaving rooms and only one bathroom. We waited there until the ceremony started at noon. John was just hanging in his office, which was actually smaller than what I would have presumed. But what a great view. Out his office window you look right down the full view of the National Mall, leading to the Washington Monument. Incredible. Here we were in the office of the next Speaker of the House only minutes away from being the third in line to become the president of the United States, and do you want to know what we talked about? Golf.

There was a professional photographer in the office and John said he would make pictures with those of us who were there. Unfortunately, I had decided it was time to visit that one bathroom. A couple of people had the same plan. To avoid a tie up, I went down the hallway, seven columns away, to a public restroom. No waiting. I know I wasn't out more than five minutes. When I returned, Em was a little huffy. Apparently the picture-taking happened while I was avoiding the bathroom line. John told Em we would get a good one when she found me. But it was time for the House to go into session.

I thought we would be shown where we could go for a good video viewing of the procedure. Not so. We were told to go into the large conference room next to John's office. A kind lady started barking out instructions. No cameras, no phones and this is how you line up. Boehner brother, Boehner sister, Boehner brother, Boehner daughter, Boehner wife, Boehner daughter, fiancee, Boehner brother, Emily Webb, Jim Webb. What? We were on the front row of the gallery with the first team. Every time they would show John's wife Deborah, we were there. Someone e-mailed me and said they liked my tie (from Belk's accessories section).

The evening was capped with a grand event at the Library of Congress with a thousand people trying for a picture with John and his wife, Debbie. Em and I just found a good viewing spot close to the adult beverages and relished our memories.

Just one more chapter: Our flight and Debbie's flight were both going out at 1 p.m. We met at the airport around 11 a.m., got through security, purchased a Washington Post and New York Times, parked ourselves at the airport McDonald's and reviewed what each paper had to say about both the speaker and Debbie. There was a good picture of Debbie, flanked by their daughters, in The New York Times. Unfortunately, the Webbs didn't make the picture. But we were there.

Does anyone know the Belk return policy?

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