View from the Capitol
Fort Myers Beach retiree looks back on his days writing appropriations bills in Washington, D.C.
As the nonpartisan staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives appropriations legislative subcommittee, he impacted the funding of Congress and a number of government agencies. Pictures of him with former President Bill Clinton and the late Speaker of the House Tom Foley adorn his wall. There are also pictures with his family and former President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush.
Lombard’s influence was such that he was considered one of the most powerful staffers in the Capitol, appearing in the 1989 edition of the political news publication Roll Call as one of “The Fabulous Fifty” staffers with “the real power” in Congress.
A native of Ohio with degrees from Stanford and Yale, Lombard has been comfortably retired on Fort Myers Beach for nearly 20 years. He quietly serves on the town’s audit committee, bringing his attention to detail and numbers.
He recently spoke out about his distaste for the events of Jan. 6 which shook The Capitol. His old office overlooked the area where the violence took place when a mob violently forced its way into the halls of Congress. “I just think they were insurgents,” he said.
Lombard was discomforted by the violence and the fact that the Capitol Police were unable to quell the disturbance as he was on the subcommittee which authorized vast amounts of money on training and expanding the force.
“We gave them a lot of money for communications equipment and training,” he said.
There are currently investigations looking into why the force was not fully mobilized on Jan. 6 when security agencies had been alerted of the threat of violence on a day when the certification of the presidential election would take place and a rally was called for by President Donald Trump during a joint meeting of Congress.
“It was a real surprise to me that they weren’t better prepared,” Lombard said. “There is a whole lot of law enforcement in Washington D.C. There is the Supreme Court police, the Parks Service, D.C. Police, Secret Service, National Guard. … I’m at a loss as to why they didn’t do a better job but they didn’t.”
Lombard said the members of Congress were visibly shaken. “That created an indelible impression with the members.”
Lombard is a reminder of a different time — when Democrats and Republicans worked closely together in Congress. As a nonpartisan staffer, he worked for both parties. In his view, the partisanship took hold after the elections of 1994 which swept Democrats out of power in the House of Representatives for the first time in more than 40 years when President Dwight Eisenhower was in office.
He enjoyed serving under speakers Carl Albert, Tip O’Neill, Jim Wright and Tom Foley but said the emergence of Newt Gingrich led to sleepless nights for staffers working on legislation in the Capitol.
“We just worked like dogs,” he said. Lombard started working seven days a week, even working on Christmas and Easter and his own birthday during a two-year period as Gingrich and Republicans pushed the “Contract With America.” Lombard said he was “glad to be a part of it.”
Lombard said the blame wasn’t just with Gingrich. He said political columnist and television personality Robert Novak encouraged the partisan fervor by wanting to root out holdovers from the Democratic regime. “He thought we had a virus,” Lombard said.
Despite the upheaval, Lombard kept his position on the committee, where he had been since 1973. He credits his good relationships with members of both parties for keeping him as staff director.
“We were a professional staff,” he said. “I didn’t do politics.”
Among his favorite congressmen to work with were Texas Democrat George Mahon, a 44-year veteran of Congress who hired him. O’Neill and Illinois Republican Robert Michel, a 38-year veteran of the House who was the longtime minority leader and minority whip, both worked closely with Lombard. He admired O’Neill, who he said was a “powerful speaker” and a “very reverent, very religious guy.”
Mahon “was a terrific supporter of the military,” Lombard said. Lombard’s son Eddie joined the U.S. Air Force and served three tours of duty as a fighter pilot in Iraq, rising to the rank of colonel.
Other favorites of Lombard were Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha, California Republican congressman Jerry Lewis and California Democrat congressman Vic Fazio. “These were all great people,” he said.
He spent a lot of time on meetings with O’Neill. Lombard would sometimes sit in on meetings between representatives and senators, including when Sen. Trent Lott was majority leader in the 1990s.
Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wisconsin), who served for 42 years in the House, was a “great friend” to Lombard. “Very acerbic,” Lombard said. “Back then, he was considered a liberal but today he would be a moderate.”
He would retire in 2001 but was brought back on as a consultant for a couple years following the events of 9/11.
It was September 11, when Lombard looked out his office window and saw the damage done to the Pentagon. “I saw the smoke coming out of the Pentagon,” he said. “I didn’t know what was happening.” After watching the news reports, he learned they had been attacked. “It was a really frightening experience.”
“I was a stickler for the rules. They protected the minority as well as the majority,” he said. His knowledge for the rules in the House were important in order to get legislation through the procedures overseen by the parliamentarian. “There were a lot of lawyers in the House,” he said.
Lombard followed his parents to Fort Myers Beach. “My dad was in the construction business and he used to come to Florida a lot during the winter,” Lombard said. “They bought back in the early ’80s. My wife (Shirley) and I started coming down here soon after that.”
As a member of the audit committee with a deep background in dealing with numbers, Lombard is confident in saying the town’s finances are solid. He said the audit committee has helped develop some of the policies enacted by the town, including investment and wire transfer policies. The committee has also reviewed the town’s audits of the finance departments.
“We’ve got a really solid reserve program,” Lombard said. He said the town has been able to set aside some of its surplus funds into state securities.
“I think the town’s finances are really in good shape.”