WASHINGTON—With more than a million dollars to spend and 69 percent of the votes in his last election, Rep. John Shimkus may well survive the Mark Foley scandal at the ballot box.
But should voters re-elect the Illinois Republican next month, they might be returning to Washington a man whose congressional influence could be diminished permanently by the scandal.
The stain from his role as the head of the House Page Board while former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was making advances toward pages could trail Shimkus for years, political analysts said. That will make it more difficult for him to rise in the House of Representatives' ranks to top committee or leadership assignments that benefit his district.
"Even being associated with a scandal can irreparably harm a career," said Steven Smith, political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Shimkus is reeling this week from charges that, as the head of the page board, he wasn't aggressive enough in investigating concerns about Foley's conduct.
In a Belleville News-Democrat interview earlier this week, Shimkus defended his actions in 2005, when he reacted to a page's parents' worries over an "overly friendly" e-mail that Foley had sent their son by simply telling Foley to stay away from pages.
Shimkus said that, based on the information he had, his response seemed reasonable. Now that more explicit and damaging messages have been revealed, second-guessing—from himself as well as critics—is to be expected.
"I only tell people what I did with the information I had available, and history will judge that," he told the News-Democrat.
Ross Baker, a longtime Democratic congressional staffer who now teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said it remained to be seen whether the public would view Shimkus as a participant in a cover-up or as someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He's clearly not the principal player in this," Baker said.
But whether or not Shimkus' actions are defensible, political damage-by-association appears inevitable.
"This will continue to be a big mark against him," Baker said.
Democrats say Shimkus should lose his seat for his role in the scandal. While his opponent in November, Dan Stover, said he would rather talk about differences on issues other than the scandal, he acknowledges that it's giving his campaign new life.
And after November, assuming Shimkus is re-elected, the scandal could ruin his ability ever to take a bigger role in the House, where he has served since 1997, Smith said.
"Even if it turns out he did everything right, Republicans won't ever want to read news stories that say, `Leader Shimkus, who was involved in the House page scandal ...'
"Politics is a lot about reputation," Smith continued. "Congress is a competitive place, and there are plenty of other legislators without baggage" competing with Shimkus for more power and projects for their districts.
"Any legislator touched by this will be disadvantaged within the House," Smith said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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