Rep. Paul Gillmor’s (R-Ohio) death Tuesday night left his friends and House colleagues shocked and saddened, and bipartisan tributes poured in Wednesday for a man described as a gentle and thoughtful legislator.
Gillmor was found dead by staff in his Arlington, Va., residence Wednesday morning after he failed to show up for work.
While the official cause of death has not been determined, initial indications were that the 68-year-old lawmaker may have suffered a heart attack. He was present for votes in the House on Tuesday night.
“Congressman Gillmor’s death comes as a great shock to us all,” read a statement released by his office. “Representative Gillmor served the people of Ohio with every ounce of his soul and today he passed on doing the job he loved. Congressman Gillmor was our boss, our mentor, and our friend.”
Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced Gillmor’s death on the House floor Wednesday afternoon.
“Born, raised and educated in our home state of Ohio, Paul never lost sight of the reason he came to Congress — to serve this great institution and his constituents with dedication and distinction,” Boehner said in a statement later.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R) was one of four Ohio Republicans, including Gillmor, on the same plane Tuesday returning to Washington, D.C. Reps. David Hobson and Pat Tiberi also were on the flight from Columbus.
Jordan said the 10-term lawmaker was “normal as normal could be” as he ate peanuts and chatted with his colleagues about what they had done over the August recess during the plane ride.
Colleagues widely described Gillmor as a caring gentleman and loving family man who was well-respected across party lines for his willingness to work with others.
Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) said Gillmor was “known for his political instinct and his mastery of legislative process,” which he honed while serving for three terms as president of the Ohio Senate.
“Paul was a legislator’s legislator,” Pryce said.
Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) described Gillmor, a senior member of the committee, as a “straightforward guy” who parlayed his state legislative experience into consensus building skills on Capitol Hill. Frank, like many of Gillmor’s colleagues, lauded him for his ability to get things done.
“He was a very constructive guy,” Frank said. “He was a legislator. He understood the process.”
It is now up to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) to set the date for a special election to fill the 5th district vacancy. Strickland has fairly wide latitude in determining that date, after which time the Ohio secretary of State will set an election calendar, including a filing deadline and primary date.
While the politics of the impending special election were not a topic for discussion Wednesday, there were private indications that Gillmor’s wife, Karen, could have strong interest in succeeding her husband and she would be the prohibitive frontrunner in a special election.
Karen Gillmor is a former state Senator who is now vice chairman of the State Employment Relations Board. Gillmor’s first wife died in a car accident.
Other names mentioned include state Sens. Steve Buehrer and Randy Gardner as well as a handful of local state Representatives, although it is unlikely that any of them would run against his widow.
Buehrer, a former state Representative, was elected to the state Senate last year. Gardner is prohibited from running for re-election in 2008 because of term limits. Prior to the Congressman’s death, Karen Gillmor had been viewed as having some interest in running to succeed Gardner.
Democrat Robin Weirauch, who has challenged Gillmor in the past two elections, was weighing another run before the lawmaker’s death. Weirauch got 43 percent of the vote against Gillmor in 2006, a banner year for Democrats, especially in Ohio. In 2004, as President Bush was carrying the district with 61 percent of the vote, she got 33 percent.
The 5th district stretches from the northwestern corner of Ohio halfway across the state, encompassing Bowling Green and the suburbs of Toledo.
Democrats are not expected to aggressively contest the strong Republican seat. The National Republican Congressional Committee is essentially broke and cannot afford to spend any money on a competitive special election.
Gillmor was first elected to Congress in 1988, after defeating the son of the retiring Congressman in the GOP primary by just 67 votes. He never faced a serious re-election challenge.
Before coming to Congress, Gillmor served in the Ohio Senate for 22 years where he was elected Republican leader and also served as Senate President for six years. In 1986, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor.
Members of the Ohio delegation and other saddened colleagues went to the floor Wednesday afternoon to offer tributes to Gillmor.
“I didn’t have a closer friend in Congress than Paul Gillmor,” said Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), who traveled often with the Ohio Republican as part of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) noted that Gillmor’s personal wealth meant that he didn’t need the job, but he wanted it and enjoyed serving. Gillmor was ranked 43rd on the 2006 list of Roll Call’s 50 richest Members of Congress. His estimated self worth was a minimum of $6.16 million, a fortune largely derived from the financial company he owned bearing his name.
“He didn’t have to be here in the Congress,” Kaptur said on the floor. “He could have checked out a long time ago.”
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was one of several colleagues who noted Gillmor’s love and devotion to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
“The two of us were always talking about football and shared a deep love of the game,” Ryan said in a statement. “He served both his state and the country well and for that he will long be remembered.”