Wacko, Texas

A legislative loose cannon takes aim on government.

If Democrat Jack Brooks hadn't run afoul of the NRA, Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) might have languished in obscurity forever. Brooks, a 42-year veteran of Congress, was a longtime friend of the NRA until he voted for the 1994 crime bill with its assault weapons ban. The NRA abandoned Brooks and threw its support to the man Brooks had defeated in 1992: Steve Stockman.

Unemployed, homeless, and once jailed on a drug charge, Stockman had drifted to east Texas from his native Michigan. There, he was "born again," went back to school to earn an accounting degree, and eventually entered politics. Victorious over Brooks in 1994, Stockman quickly showed himself to be a loose cannon.

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There's a usually innocuous ritual followed by first-timers in Congress: No sooner do they descend upon the Capitol than they put their names on their first pieces of legislation. By these documents ye may know them.

Stockman raced to the legislative hopper with bills designed, variously, to "provide that human life shall be deemed to exist from conception"; to "repeal prohibitions relating to semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity, ammunition-feeding devices"; and to determine if Alfred Kinsey's well-known books on sexual behavior are "the result of any fraud or criminal wrongdoing."

Stockman's "legislation" never got close to consideration. But that's not the only way to tell what he stands for. There's his voting record. While his own ideas may put him on the fringe, he earns his keep by voting in lockstep with Newt and the GOP leadership.

Stockman has voted to gut the Clean Water Act, reduce the budget of the EPA, cut funding for school assistance in order to fund a tax break for the wealthy, disallow tax deductions for higher education and interest on student loans, cut Head Start and adult job training, and slash Medicare.

Newt Gingrich, in turn, saw to it that Stockman was assigned to the Banking and Financial Services Committee, one of the House's "juice" committees, so named because its members can squeeze massive campaign contributions out of those whose interests they promote.

And they're definitely juicing Stockman's 1996 congressional campaign. Finance, insurance, and real estate political action committees have contributed $73,500 to his re-election effort, or 42 percent of his total PAC donations. Stockman is well on his way to tripling what he spent to win his seat in 1994.

How does he spend all that money? Well, a lot of it stays close to home -- perhaps too close. According to a report in the Hill, a Washington weekly, Stockman paid an estimated $126,000 to a political consulting company with the same address as his -- an apparent violation of the "arm's-length" rule for campaign expenditures set by the House.

The partisan monitoring group NewtWatch describes Stockman as an "anti-consumer, anti-education, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-law enforcement, anti-seniors politician who's hypocritical on congressional reform, hostile to poor and middle-class families, and a supporter of Internet censorship."

Other than that, the group says, he seems nice enough.