A staunch Republican, he represented a political center that has nearly disappeared.
Former Rep. Frank J. Horton served residents of Monroe, Cayuga, Seneca, Wayne, and Oswego counties from 1967 until his retirement from office in 1992. He died Monday, August 30, in his Virginia home, at the age of 84.
Many remember Horton for his dedication to his constituents. His political career was born out of that dedication, and he never wavered.
"Frank was a public-service-oriented man," says David Lovenheim, who served as Horton's chief of staff from 1967 until 1978. "He was constantly seeking ways to give his constituents a better life, to enhance their communities, to improve the way the federal government performed."
Horton was an environmentalist who "had a very strong belief that the federal government had a role to play in improving the cleanliness of air and water, particularly as a congressman whose district always included many, many miles of LakeOntario shoreline."
Horton held water-pollution hearings in his district in 1966, well before there was an Environmental Protection Agency or a national Environmental Policy Act. One outgrowth of those hearings was the replacement of a single-treatment sewage facility in Durand-EastmanPark that was responsible for polluting LakeOntario.
Horton was appointed to the Committee on Government Operations on his very first day as a congressman, January 3, 1963.
"That was not a committee that was a particular plum at the time," says Lovenheim. "And he turned that committee into a major force in pioneering new and better ways of doing government and government oversight."
Horton was the prime sponsor of several bills that created new and reorganized departments in federal government, streamlining processes and eliminating paperwork. "He was very much into improving the performance of government, particularly at the federal level," Lovenheim says. "But he was also keenly focused on how all those things could be harnessed to better serve the communities he represented and the people he represented. That's where his heart really was."
The House was controlled by Democrats throughout Horton's tenure, so he remained in the political minority. Still, he managed to spearhead important legislative initiatives.
"The way he got all that done was not by being the leadership of a vocal minority that objected to everything the majority party was doing," Lovenheim says. "He accomplished those things because of the confidence and the relationship he built with the chairmen he served with. These people relied on Frank, on his expertise, on his fairness, on his lack of partisanship, on his objectivity. They were partners in building these legislative solutions to problems."
Horton "had more influence than most committee chairmen who served for decades, because he had the creativity and the initiative," says Lovenheim. "But he also had built the confidence across party lines."
During his last few years in Congress, Horton began voting against his party's leadership more frequently. "That's not because he was becoming more of a liberal," Lovenheim says. "He was still Frank Horton. He had a very steady set of principles and beliefs. What he was finding himself in was the milieu of a party that was moving further and further to the right, just as many Democrats elected when he was elected found their party moving to the left. The center got fairly thin."
Horton was a leader of the Wednesday Club, a group of moderate and liberal-thinking Republicans in the House who met weekly and set a policy course that sometimes differed greatly from the Republican Party's.
"Frank did not choose to buck his party," Lovenheim says. "But he never took his eye off the ball. And the ball was what was best for his constituency and what was best for the country."
Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, who considered Horton a personal friend, says Horton's bipartisanship was best proven by the fact that he was best friends with Congressman Jack Brooks (D-Texas). "He loved Frank," Slaughter says. "When Frank had a retirement party, Jack came up. I admired everything about Frank --- his style, his integrity. So did all the other Democrats. It was a different time. It was a time when people respected each other."