When Rep. Amory Houghton, Jr. R-N.Y. arrived at Capitol Hill during his tenure in office (1987-2004), he almost always drove himself in his Ford Taurus station wagon. Often wearing suits that appeared as though he draped them over a couch the night before, Houghton would inevitably stop and talk to guards and cafeteria workers before heading to his office for the day.
To those who knew him even peripherally, the lawmaker who insisted everyone call him “Amo” was truly a “regular guy.” And most of them were left speechless upon learning that, with an estimated net worth of $420 million, the heir to the Corning Glass Works fortune, and son and grandson of ambassadors to major European countries (his grandfather was ambassador to Germany and Britain, his father to France) was one of the wealthiest members of Congress.
When news of his death last week at age 93 spread, Amo Houghton remembered just that way by colleagues, friends, and acquaintances — a regular guy who happened to be an American aristocrat.
“You couldn’t dislike Amo if you tried — even when he voted like a Democrat, which was often,” former Rep. Gary Lee, R.-NY., who knew Houghton since the late 1960’s, told Newsmax, “I talked to him about his voting record and how it was a problem for conservatives in upstate New York. He told me he was going to vote his conscience. And he said so in a gentlemanly way — like he did everything else.”
Lee recalled how when Elmira (NY) was hit by devastating floods in 1972, Houghton — then president of the family-owned Corning Glass Works — was out overseeing relief efforts and wearing boots and dungarees.
When Lee hosted a dinner party at Washington’s storied Georgetown Club in 1986, Houghton — then between marriages — arrived with a dark-haired woman who looked familiar to most of the guests.
“He said ‘Gary, may I present Mrs. Onassis?’” Lee told us, recalling his surprise that his friend escorted the world-famous Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the stunned looks on the faces of fellow guests as he introduced them all to his date for the night.
The young Houghton put off his college education for service in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1945-46. After serving in the Pacific, he came out a private-first class, earned degrees at Harvard and its business school, and joined the family business known as Corning Glass Works in 1951.
A great-great grandson of the founder of Corning and one of the fifth generation of Houghtons to work for the company, Amo rose to become its president in 1964. Under his aegis, the firm went international, and it also went from a manufacturer of cookware and glassware to one that made and marketed components for the semi-conductor industry, televisions, and digital tablets.
In 1986, he won an open U.S. House district from upstate New York with ease. As the Republican Party moved to the right on cultural issues, Rep. Houghton remained on the left and middle. He was reliably pro-choice in an increasingly pro-life GOP and strongly opposed legislation to permit school prayer.
Houghton also supported increasing the minimum wage and legislation to require government-regulated campaign financing. He supported a federal ban on assault weapons, but never renounced his membership in the National Rifle Association.
He supported most of the Republican economic agenda and did not take a kind view of the U.S. military involved in foreign ventures when the U.S. was not in danger. Houghton voted against both George H.W. Bush’s Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and George W. Bush’s subsequent strike against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein in 2004.
In perhaps his most dramatic break with his colleagues in the House, Houghton in 1998 voted against every article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. He was one of five House Republicans to oppose impeaching Clinton for perjury over his relationship with a White House intern and one of twelve to oppose impeaching him for obstruction of justice.
Although Houghton was disgusted by reports of Clinton’s behavior, he also felt they didn’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses. Instead, he offered his own resolution to censure the president and fine him $500,000 for the two actions involved in his impeachment. The censure resolution went nowhere.
Following his retirement, Houghton continued to give interviews and write letters to the editor of local papers decrying the loss of bipartisanship and camaraderie in the House.
“Amo could drive you crazy with some of the votes he cast,” said Gary Lee, “And I told him that. But I could never get mad at him. No one could. He was such a good guy. And he was my friend.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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