7 January 1997
Hill Supports Re-election of Gingrich As Speaker of the House
By BOB MILLER
HELENA (AP) - Rick Hill, Montana's new Republican congressman, voted Monday to re-elect Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Although he campaigned for consensus and cooperation, Hill spent his first day on the job embroiled in the bitter struggle over the re-election of Gingrich.
"This was a situation involving very partisan politics," Hill said in a telephone interview. "It certainly wasn't an ordinary first day."
Monday's vote came before the full House ethics committee had a chance to recommend punishment for Gingrich.
Hill said he would have preferred to have had the committee's final recommendation before the vote. But based on preliminary findings contained in a subcommittee's report and his own conversation with Gingrich, Hill said Gingrich's conduct did not bar him from the speakership.
"There was no reference in (the subcommittee's) report that there was ever an intention to mislead by the speaker," Hill said. "To me, the difference between making a mistake and and intention to mislead is crucial."
Gingrich acknowledged Dec. 21 that he submitted inaccurate information to the ethics committee regarding certain tax-exempt projects. He had previously denied any wrongdoing in connection with the programs.
The committee is expected to meet in the next several days to recommend a formal sanction against Gingrich.
Hill said he is looking forward to getting on with the people's business, instead of the political intrigue surrounding the speaker.
"I think the real measure of people is their ability to set this aside and get to work," he said.
Besides voting for Gingrich, Hill fulfilled a campaign promise by pledging his support for a balanced budget amendment. He also announced his support for two tax reform measures designed to ease the tax burden on ranchers and farmers.
One would permit farmers to average their taxable income over more than one year. An aide to Hill, Amy Sullivan, said farmers' income can vary widely from year to year, creating sometimes burdensome tax bills. This law, if passed, would effectively spread the tax pain by avoiding those spikes in income.
The other tax measure - the Family Farm Tax Simplification Act - would change the way futures contracts for agricultural products are taxed. Instead of taxing the value of the contract in the year it is executed, the new law would tax the contract in the year it is performed.
On Monday, Hill officially took over the seat formerly held by Democrat Pat Williams, who retired after 18 years in the House.
Hill, 49, is a wealthy Helena businessman and former chairman of the state workers' compensation system.
He ran against Democrat Bill Yellowtail on a pro-business platform and said he would serve no more than three terms.
Hill has said he would like to reform and streamline the review process for the use of natural resources, a highly contentious process in Montana.
He has gained a seat on the House Resources Committee, and Hill said he is scheduling a "listening tour" to begin later this month in Montana to gather views on the best ways to approach these issues.
In December, Hill appointed Peggy Trenk, the former executive director of the Western Environmental Trade Association, as his state director.
The appointment angered some local environmentalists, who complained that Trenk had worked on behalf of mining interests in Montana.
Trenk appeared in a TV commercial during the general election last year, arguing against a ballot initiative designed to toughen water quality standards.
Hill has also been appointed to the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services and the Republican Policy Committee.
Sullivan, his aide, said the Policy Committee is responsible for formulating Republican positions on a host of issues. Hill is the only freshman on the committee.
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