THE STEALTH CONGRESSMAN
His face pinkens with exertion as he lifts the tightly bound bundles of mail onto a desk in a back corner of a Washington, D.C., congressional office. He snips the plastic binding with scissors and sorts through the contents.
In his mid-60s, skinny and bowlegged with a face leathered by sun and wind, he seems ill-suited for a big-city office job. Reading glasses perch on his nose. The top button of his blue oxford has yet to be fastened. The jacket of his western-cut suit--gray, with an iridescent cast--rests across the back of a chair. Pointy, black-and-royal-blue cowboy boots and a clunky, turquoise belt buckle complete the ensemble.
He performs his small tasks deftly, stacking hand-addressed letters from constituents to one side for later perusal and sorting quickly through piles of periodicals and government documents. He divides the latter by category, placing pieces in slots assigned to members of the office staff. He tosses out as much as he keeps, scoffing at the waste perpetrated by special interest groups.
No one has told him that he must arrive by 6 a.m. each day, driving through a hazy chocolate dawn toward the fluorescent glow that protects the Capitol buildings. The first of his co-workers won't arrive for hours. He savors the quiet, back here by the window.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
TicketsWed., Nov. 9, 9:00am
Meet Bob Stump. If he is elected to a ninth term next fall, he'll be Arizona's senior member on Capitol Hill, the dean of the state's congressional delegation.
After 17 years in Congress, he still opens his own mail in Washington and harvests his own cotton near Tolleson, west of Phoenix.
The question: What else does he do?
@body:In 1977, Arizona's congressional delegation was small but formidable. At the helm sat senior senator Barry Goldwater, House minority leader John Rhodes Jr., and Morris Udall, chairman of the House Interior Committee.
That's the year that Bob Stump, a longtime state legislator and conservative Democrat, benefited from Sam Steiger's decision to relinquish his seat in Congressional District 3 to make an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate.
Stump won Steiger's old seat and got a taste of the delegation's power early on, after President Jimmy Carter yanked funding for the Central Arizona Project. The delegation worked cohesively to have the funding restored--and even increased by a few million dollars.
Such tales are ancient lore. Long gone are Goldwater, Rhodes and Udall--and with them, Arizona's clout. Last May, the Capitol Hill-based newspaper Roll Call ranked the state a dismal 47th in influence in Congress, ahead of only South Dakota, New Hampshire and Idaho. The paper's assessment: If not for Senator Dennis DeConcini, a three-termer with influential committee assignments, the state would rank at the bottom.
DeConcini announced last month that he will not seek reelection in 1994. As a senator with as much tenure as Stump, DeConcini has been the unofficial leader of the delegation. But DeConcini says it's been a long time since the delegation worked together effectively; he blames partisanship more than lack of clout.
Days after announcing his decision to bow out, DeConcini laments that while the delegation is supposed to gather once a month, it's been two months since the last meeting. The meetings "used to be very good," he says, but it's been a long time since they were constructive. Other state delegations work well together, DeConcini muses, noting that Nebraska's members meet once a week for breakfast.
Can Bob Stump save the day, uniting the delegation and building Arizona's clout in Congress? He has earned tremendous seniority in the House of Representatives--18th now, among members of his party. But he hasn't earned a reputation as an outspoken leader, either in his party or state delegation.
He cast what many call the most important vote of his career during his first year in Congress, giving the deciding nod to Texas' Jim Wright in the race for House majority leader.
Since then, Stump has stuck to the ultraconservative sidelines, rarely venturing into the thick of any political games. He's made big headlines just once--in 1981, when he switched his affiliation to the minority party, the GOP.
Stump's defection prompted Udall to quip that he could hold Arizona Democratic House caucus meetings in his bathtub.
Over the years, Stump hasn't varied. His 1976 campaign literature promises "independence of thought" and a "don't-spend-it-if-you-haven't-got-it philosophy." He's best known in Congress as a perpetual naysayer, casting votes against almost all spending programs. Conservatives from both sides of the aisle call him a moral compass. Critics say his extremism renders him ineffective, that he's done nothing for his district and state, and that Arizona would be in big trouble with Stump at the helm in Washington, D.C.
"I don't take as much pride in his nonactivism as he does," says the irascible Steiger, who, without holding elective office, has remained far more visible than Stump. "Fascist votes don't get anything done. . . . You've gotta convince the people."
For the most part, Stump avoids the people; it's hard to say whether he's snobby or shy. He's cordial and soft-spoken in conversation--until something ticks him off.
He has busied himself behind the scenes, earning influential positions on the House Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees and, recently, a place in Roll Call's annual "Obscure Caucus." (Obscurity is an honor, according to the paper--you keep your head down, bring home the bacon and try to avoid the easy sound bite.")
Pat Bosch, a Democrat from Tolleson who lost to Stump in 1982, insists that it's the congressman's laissez faire attitude that secures his reelection every two years. "If you do nothing, you just sort of blend into the woodwork. They [the voters] see his name, they go to the polls and they say, 'Ah yes, I've never heard anything negative about this man. Of course I'm going to vote for him,'" she says.
Clearly a politician from a bygone era, Stump has carved a careful niche for himself away from the spotlight, among the senior, conservative members of Congress he calls his friends. He maneuvers the twisting hallways beneath the Capitol with an ease befuddling to lost tourists, and greets his colleagues heartily--blue-green eyes twinkling with pride.
Stump leans back from his stack of mail and removes his reading glasses to solemnly reflect on his station.
"Only 10,000 people in the history of this country have had this job," he says softly.
@body:A phone is ringing. Stump snatches up an extension. "Yello!"
It's 7:20. The sun is up and so is Sonny Montgomery, a Mississippi Democrat with 27 years under his belt at the Capitol. Montgomery and Stump are, in the Arizonan's words, "as close of friends as any guys in the Congress." Montgomery is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee; Stump is the committee's ranking minority member. The two also serve together on Armed Services and co-founded a regular congressional prayer meeting.
Stump and Montgomery met as fellow Democrats and even started the Boll Weevils, a group of conservative Southern Democrats, like Arizona "pinto" Democrats, who sometimes wind up brokering legislation. They remained friends after Stump moved over to the Republican side.
Unlike most of their colleagues, who roam the House floor, these two can always be found in the same seats--toward the back, across the aisle from one another; their friends gather around them.
For years, Stump and Montgomery have met for breakfast almost every morning in the Longworth Cafeteria, an unassuming public restaurant in the basement of the House office complex. The all-male breakfast group has grown to include other members--mainly conservative Democrats and Republicans from the South. Staffers say it's one of the most influential unofficial gatherings in the House, a group that often includes Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Democratic senator from Colorado, and Kentucky's Bill Natcher, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
"Damn!" Stump mutters as he approaches the glass doors of the cafeteria and spies two men waiting inside. His schedule for the day--he carries it with him on a card--indicates that constituents would join him for breakfast, but Stump is peeved that his carefully reserved time--time alone with his friends in Congress--will be interrupted.
Always cordial, he greets the men heartily, escorting them through the cafeteria line to a big table in the corner marked "reserved." There they'll eat side by side with Stump's colleagues. Accents around the table are as thick and Southern as the ham gravy on Owen Pickett's plate. Pickett is a Democrat from Virginia. Stump digs into fried eggs, oatmeal with butter, a banana and apple juice. Montgomery pours coffee for everyone.
"Hi, B.S., how ya doin'?" Mike Parker, another conservative Mississippi Democrat, asks from across the table.
Sometimes the breakfast clubbers bargain for votes and fill each other in on important committee activity. Today they're considering their options in the weekly football pool.
@body:Last fall, Stump's pal Larry Hopkins, a Kentucky congressman who stepped down in 1992 to make an unsuccessful bid for his state's governorship, made light of Stump's appearance. En route with Stump from one building to another, Hopkins called out to crowds of gawking visitors to "make way for Mr. Perot."
With his slight stature and fleshy ears, Stump could easily be mistaken for Perot. When it comes to temperament, though, the similarities end. Stump is a quiet guy til you get to know him, Montgomery drawls: "He dahhsn't git up on the flowah and tawk on every bill, which some mimbahs do. But whin he dahs tawk, mimbahs lissin."
Stump is indeed a rarity. He doesn't pontificate on the floor, doesn't dress in Washington power suits. Even at events where he's the scheduled keynote speaker, he seldom says more than a dozen words. He doesn't employ a press secretary, rarely sends out press releases and has held just one official news conference while in Congress--when he switched parties.
But if asked, he'll recite his accomplishments. As one of the members involved in placing Republicans on House committees, Stump says he's been able to get Arizonans Jon Kyl and Jim Kolbe assignments on the influential Armed Services and Appropriations committees, respectively.
The lion's share of his time on the Hill is devoted to the Veterans Affairs Committee, where, as ranking Republican, he and Montgomery call the shots. In the minds of "every veteran in this country . . . the names Stump and Montgomery go together," says Dick Armey, a Republican representative from Texas who heads the House Minority Caucus.
One of Stump's favorite arenas is foreign affairs, particularly when it involves cloak-and-dagger operations. He served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 1981 to 1987, the last two years as the ranking Republican member.
Stump takes special satisfaction in the "Stump-Pepper Angola Amendment," which he sponsored with the late Claude Pepper, a Florida Democrat, in 1986. The measure deleted a section from that year's intelligence authorization bill that would have made aid to Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi and his guerilla forces subject to a joint resolution of Congress. To this day, the White House can offer covert aid to the Angolan rebels.
The amendment was so controversial that the Reagan administration had given up on any hope of passage, Stump recalls. He helped coax more than 60 Democrats over to his side.
At the time, the national press quoted Stump: "It's a tough world, and some things must be done in secret to be successful." There is some evidence that Stump and three other congressmen were in the loop during the Iran-contra affair, although many members of Congress expressed outrage that they were not informed of the covert funding plan.
According to Colonel Oliver North's notebooks--obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C.--Stump and representatives Bill McCollum, Henry Hyde and Bob Livingston met with North and then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane on March 4, 1985. The notes make clear that a private covert funding plan for the contras was discussed. At the time, North's private fund-raising efforts were at the center of congressional and criminal investigations of Iran-contra. Stump made no public disclosure of his meeting with North and McFarlane. At least one national publication, the New Republic, accused Stump of a "failure of responsibility toward the institution of Congress." The magazine also called for an ethics investigation, which never materialized.
When New Times reminds him of the episode, Stump says, "That involved intelligence and I cannot comment on it."
In 1982, Pat Bosch criticized Stump for his involvement in the Western Goals Foundation, an anti-Communist organization founded by Larry McDonald, a conservative Democrat from Georgia. Bosch says today that it was Stump's affiliation with the group that prompted her to run against him; she worried that Stump would share classified information with the WGF.
According to a 1981 article in the Atlanta Journal, the organization had offices in Virginia and West Germany, and at the time was creating a database "into which is fed information on terrorist activities and groups and individuals he [McDonald] considers to be subversive."
The Journal listed that Stump was a member of the WGF's board of directors. Stump doesn't recall that, but says he was involved. Stump says that involvement ended in 1983, after McDonald died in the Soviets' downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007.
Years later, some of the organizers of the WGF were linked with the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, a "charity" that was part of North's Byzantine money-and-arms operation, often known as "The Enterprise." Stump doesn't welcome questions about the Western Goals Foundation. "I don't understand why in the hell somebody would go back 10 or 12 or 14 years ago," he says. @rule:
@body:As a kid growing up in Tolleson, Stump never considered public office, though his father, Jess Stump, served for many years on a local school board and spent three years in the state legislature. Bob wanted to go to medical school, his interest sparked by duty as a medic in the Pacific during World War II.
"I guess the desire really wasn't there, or I would have done a little better" in premed, he admits. Stump transferred his science credits at Arizona State University to the agriculture department, got his degree and joined his father in the family's fields. He was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist--you don't get any stricter than that"--and remains deeply religious today.
His three children are all in the medical profession. "I attribute that to working them too hard on the farm," he jokes with pride.
Once Bob Stump sought and won a seat in the Arizona Legislature in 1958, however, he was hooked. He has sought office every two years since. But whether in Phoenix or Washington, Stump (who divorced many years ago and never remarried) remained close to his father, returning during recesses and on weekends to the farm.
Jess Stump died in 1990, at age 89. Bob took the loss hard, friends say. Charlie Thompson, who served as Stump's first administrative assistant in Washington, wells up as he remembers a political event at which Stump paid spontaneous, quiet tribute to his father.
It was an unusual move for the assiduously private Stump, but Thompson and others who are close to the congressman say he has an emotional side. Stump agrees ruefully, recalling that when he first took office, he often contacted constituents personally to deliver good news.
"Whether it's a lost person or a lost check, I'd be the one to call them. Then the woman'd start crying and I'd start crying. I gave that crap up a long time ago," Stump says. Thompson met Stump while serving as an intern at the legislature. He rose through the ranks to head the legislature's research division, and jumped at the chance to accompany Stump to D.C. in 1977. The Cannon Building, which houses Stump's office in Washington, is the oldest and most regal of the House office buildings. It has high ceilings, marble hallways and rats. Thompson laughs, recalling that Stump set traps, bought new carpet for the office and climbed onto a ledge outside the office to clean the windows, oblivious to the notion that members of Congress just didn't do such things.
And Stump insisted on conducting most of his official business from the mail desk, reserving his fancy member's chambers for meetings.
Thompson wasn't surprised. This was the guy who had personally paid for a fresh spray of flowers every day he served as president of the Arizona Senate. Yet it was at the legislature that Stump first made his mark as a fiscal conservative.
"When I ran the Senate, it was a joke, I guess, the whole time that people had to come to me to get a pencil or a typewriter ribbon," Stump recalls. And that extended to his voting record. In 1975, he described himself to a reporter as the "biggest 'no' voter around."
His conservative colleagues say the same about Stump today. Dick Armey of Texas and Jerry Solomon, a Republican from New York, say they and Stump maintain an ongoing, unofficial contest to see who can win the "most conservative" awards from taxpayer groups. Stump is a formidable opponent. He speaks proudly of the fact that he returns nearly half of his office budget to the House each year. Although he's allowed up to 18 staffers, he keeps only 11 to cover his Arizona and Washington offices.
But over the years, he has been lambasted for his spending in other areas. For example, Stump was criticized a few years ago when it was discovered that he was flying first class between Arizona and D.C. "I took my lumps for that," he says, shrugging. He now flies coach, but still doesn't think it was such a bad thing; flying first class allowed him to get more work done, he says.
Although he hasn't voted for congressional pay raises, he does accept them. As Stump observes, there is no legal way to turn the money back over to the federal government; he has joined in lawsuits to challenge this. Other members have, however, donated their pay raises to charity.
The issue that seems to irk people the most is the fact that Stump accepts government farm subsidies. He took almost $24,000 during the last complete program year for his two cotton farms, according to the Maricopa Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.
Stump votes against the subsidies, but says he'll accept them as long as they exist. He was among a small minority of House members who supported a new agricultural spending program this year, a small subsidy for beekeepers. The move threw his critics into a tizzy. One disgusted congressional staffer grouses, "The bee isn't going away. They're not going to quit pollinating, for Chrissakes!"
@body:Every Sunday that he's home in Tolleson, which is most, you can find Bob Stump at the Sahuaro Cafe. The Mexican restaurant is tucked away on a quiet residential street, blocks away from the fields.
It's easy to picture Stump with a plate of huevos rancheros, leaning back in a red-leather booth and chatting with the locals. U.S. Representative Ed Pastor, whose district abuts Stump's, passes Stump Farms on the weekends and sees his colleague in the fields. Oddly, though, some of his constituents say Stump is out of touch with their needs--particularly those at the far reaches of his 45,000-square-mile district. Most District 3 voters are clustered in the West Valley communities of Sun City and Glendale. From there, the district reaches to the north and west, including Page, Williams, Prescott. A tongue of the district extends east of Flagstaff, however, to take in the Hopi reservation.
Maricopa County Supervisor Ed King, who represents Sun City, watched Stump campaign in that area last fall. "They just absolutely love him," King says. But folks in Kingman and Lake Havasu City say they see Stump rarely, if at all--even during campaign season. Stump and his chief of staff, Lisa Jackson, say that's because the congressman doesn't seek publicity when he's in the district. In contrast, Jackson is often visible. She has worked for the congressman since 1977; insiders say that she works so hard and has so much pull that she practically is the member of Congress.
Many hope she'll run for the seat when Stump retires. "Bob has been blessed with what is undoubtedly the best congressional staffer in the Arizona delegation, maybe ever," gushes Barry Dill, DeConcini's state director.
Unlike other members of Congress, Stump maintains his local office outside his district, in downtown Phoenix. Jackson says that's because Stump took over Steiger's office in the federal building for the convenience of constituents who must visit more than one federal office at a time.
Stump says he splits his time in the state between the farm--his official address inside District 3--and a residence "in town," meaning central Phoenix, outside District 3.
Stan Bindell, editor of the Navajo-Hopi Observer, says he's been observing Stump for a decade. Until redistricting after the 1990 census, Stump represented Tuba City and part of the Navajo reservation. "If he's been in Tuba City in the last eight to ten years, nobody is aware of it. . . . I don't even know of a time when Bob Stump's representatives have been on the [Navajo] reservation," says Bindell. He claims that few people on the Hopi and Navajo reservations knew Stump was their representative until he began to mention the fact in his columns.
Ivan Sidney, who served as the chairman of the Hopi tribe from 1981 to 1989, says he's never seen Stump on the reservation. "You can't really advocate for us out here if you've never been out here," he adds. Stump gets testy when asked about trips to the hinterlands. He's been to Tuba City, he insists. But he acknowledges that he doesn't spend a lot of time in sparsely populated areas of the district.
Lobbyists who share Stump's interests--such as Dave Iwanski, executive vice president of the Agri-Business Council of Arizona--find him extremely responsive. He may have a hard time delegating authority, Iwanski suggests.
"I think Bob has a tendency, if you give him a problem . . . what he wants to do is not turn that problem over to staff so much as get personally involved. See, he wants to hear eyeball-to-eyeball what's going on," Iwanski says.
But those whose causes aren't so near and dear to Stump's conservative heart say Stump is nearly invisible.
"Getting an appointment with Bob Stump is extremely difficult," says Rob Smith, Southwestern representative for the Sierra Club. "Somehow there's always a reason why he isn't there." Smith contends that the congressman's myopia on issues such as wilderness preservation leaves Stump out of the decision-making process in Congress. But he does credit Stump for his honesty. It's a vestige of the plainspokenness of other longtime Arizona lawmakers, such as Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall, Smith says: "If you're gonna disagree, at least tell someone that you do."
Earlier this year, Stump demonstrated his bluntness to his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, which was working on the 1994 Department of Defense Authorization Act. The topic of discussion was gays in the military. Normally quiet at such meetings, Stump piped up: "In 1943, as a young boy, barely 16 years of age, I joined the United States Navy. Within two months, I was shipped overseas and spent over two years overseas. I cannot tell you the number of times I had to fend off homosexual after homosexual.
"You know, everybody talks about rights. Our young servicemen have rights, too, and they have a right to serve their country in an environment that is free of homosexuals."
@body:Andy Hurwitz, who once served as chief of staff to former governor Bruce Babbitt, barely recalls the first encounter he had with Stump at a Washington cocktail party many years ago. (The story is now legend among Arizona congressional staffers.) He laughs when reminded. The Babbitt staffer was introduced to Congressman Stump, who looked him in the eye and announced, "I don't like Bruce Babbitt."
To this day, Hurwitz isn't sure whether Stump was serious, though he does recall that Stump and his boss "were not close."
In fairness to Stump, Hurwitz feels compelled to share a much different tale. When impeached governor Evan Mecham refused, initially, to relinquish the ninth floor to his successor, then-secretary of state Rose Mofford, Stump stepped in to mediate between his two old friends.
"He was just terrific," says Hurwitz, who, as Mofford's interim chief of staff, sat in on a meeting with Mofford, Mecham and Stump.
It's a rare anecdote that paints Stump as the great compromiser. But Hurwitz's tale may be heartening to those who know that at this point, there's just one thing that could prevent Bob Stump from ascending to the position of senior member of the Arizona congressional delegation: his defeat. (He has no plans to retire, he says.)
Local pollster Bruce Merrill says it's been four or five years since a reporter has called him with a question about Congressional District 3. Most consider that to be Stump's seat as long as he wants it. But this time, the Democrats say they're out to disprove that theory. In 1990, a Democrat from Flagstaff named Roger Hartstone spent less than $10,000 to challenge Stump and got 43 percent of the vote. (Flagstaff has since been redistricted out of District 3, and Hartstone didn't do nearly as well in 92. He declined to comment for this article.)
If it weren't for redistricting, Karan English of Flagstaff, who in 1992 won a seat in Congress in newly created District 6, might have run against Stump instead, according to Democratic insiders. She might have given Stump a run for it. These same wags whisper that Secretary of State Dick Mahoney has been urged to consider a run in 94, and that Arizona Democratic party chair Steve Owens has looked at it. Some say the Democrats have been lazy, by all but ignoring a seat that could be captured by a credible candidate. But others warn that the right candidate might be difficult to find; they question whether young city slickers like Mahoney and Owens could capture the allegiance of a district described in national political almanacs as home to elderly, conservative, Ozzie-and-Harriet types.
Owens will only admit that the Democrats are, in fact, targeting Stump's seat in the next election, and hope to get money to do battle in District 3 from the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Pointing to a key hot-button issue--the district's overwhelming vote against state Proposition 110 in 1992--Owens notes that the district is pro-choice, and Bob Stump isn't.
There could even be a serious challenge on the Republican side. Ivan Sidney is now running for chairmanship of the Hopi tribe, but says he's considering running for the Republican nomination in Stump's district. Stump acts bored by such talk, though he says he takes every race seriously. He leans back against the slippery black leather of a couch in his seldom-used congressional office and thinks for a moment about going after the now-open Senate seat. He did, after all, consider such a move in 1986, when Barry Goldwater stepped down. (Insiders say John McCain jumped into that race before Stump had made a decision, but that Goldwater had initially supported Stump.)
Anyway, that's ancient history, as far as Stump's concerned. No, he says, he doesn't want to be a senator. Too much fund raising. And there's no way he could keep up with all that mail. "I tell you," he says, "I got all I can do.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.