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PAXON'S CLIMB UP THE POLITICAL LADDER CARRIED HIM FAR AWAY FROM HIS DISTRICT

Last year, Bill Paxon founded his own political action committee, the Empire Majority Leadership Fund. Gifts to his PAC from such media moguls as Rupert Murdoch and ABC News President David Westin helped Paxon make $90,000 in donations to the campaigns of 45 other GOP House candidates.

Creating PACs is common practice for politicians of both parties who want to exert influence beyond the confines of their congressional districts. It's a device used by former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, and the current speaker, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who -- until last week -- had been the Amherst Republican's patron and mentor.

The Empire PAC is typical of Paxon's penchant for long-term strategy. And it symbolizes the stresses of trying to become a national figure from the base of a district congressman.

But eventually, the glamour of the American political stage can menace the purely local agenda, crowding it to the side. In Paxon's case, a national role seems to have outshone a local commitment.

Paxon's predecessor, Jack Kemp, seeking to become a national candidate in the 1980s, also had this affliction. Amherst, a major part of Kemp's district, suffered terrible flooding in 1984. When constituents insisted Kemp tour the area, an aide shot back, "Jack's a national figure now. He has more to do than tramp around somebody's sodden basement."

In his first three terms, Paxon fought errant dumpers of garbage and PCBs. He opposed a nuclear dump at West Valley. He worked with the federal bureaucracy to keep a small factory open in Castile and campaigned to strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency's powers over air polluters.

But, with the exception of milk subsidies, Paxon's major preoccupations throughout his political career have been lower taxes and smaller government. Despite his successful campaign last year for a federal detention center in Batavia, Paxon's list of purely local objectives has never been long.

Unlike Kemp, or fellow Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, Paxon never encouraged the mayors, supervisors and other officials from his district to seek his help. Nor has he, like Kemp, tried to forge a strong regional coalition of House members. Increasingly, he began to be bypassed by professionals and volunteers who were lobbying on behalf of institutions and governments.

From his entry to Congress in 1988, Paxon maintained one of the most conservative voting records in the House. And bruising election campaigns in his first two runs persuaded him to use reapportionment after the 1990 census to look for a congressional district whose social outlook matched his own.

To those inclined to write off Paxon because of his dismissal by Gingrich from two House leadership posts, consider his triumph in the reapportionment struggles of 1991-92.

As the State Legislature took up the congressional reapportionment bill, Paxon was almost squeezed out by three long-term Western New York incumbents who wanted softer districts. New York State was going to be losing a couple of districts that year because of its decreasing percentage of the national population. At first, the statewide wisdom was that the seat held by Paxon, a newcomer, would be one of those to go.

But the retirement of Buffalo Democrat Henry Nowak created an opening against which Paxon devoted a lot of effort and money. Paxon promised State Senate Republicans $100,000 in campaign contributions over 10 years if they would draw him a comfortable district.

They did.

The new district was a seeming rebuke to the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on reapportionment, Baker vs. Carr. The court said, "Cows don't vote, trees don't vote; people do."

In the redistricting, Paxon traded the Erie County South Towns and their blue-collar precincts for the barns and the silos, the cows and the people who drain their udders, a district stretching across the Finger Lakes eastward to the Syracuse exurbs.

Concerns about steel and autos were exchanged for worries about maintaining federal and state subsidies for dairy farmers.

With a new district containing 60,000 more Republicans than Democrats, Paxon now had something his predecessor, Jack Kemp, never got -- a solid electoral GOP power base.

The difference was striking. Paxon ran a few percentage points behind candidate George Bush in 1988. In 1992, in the new district, he ran more than 20 points ahead of President Bush. It was clear that Paxon wouldn't have many worries at election time for the rest of the '90s. He would be free to concentrate on matters other than the urgency of assuring his own re-election.

Even before his second run in the new district, Paxon was quietly seeking to replace Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, R-Mich., as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Gingrich gave him the job in 1993.

Paxon inherited a committee deeply in debt and with the mentality of a perennial loser. In less than two years, he and Gingrich turned it around. In 1994, they returned the first GOP-controlled House in 40 years.

For Paxon, it was a triumph -- and a quick trip out of obscurity and onto the national stage.

Last year, Paxon and Gingrich returned the second consecutive Republican House majority in 68 years, but with a margin of only 10 votes, far less than Paxon had predicted. The thin majority is part of Gingrich's troubles, the troubles that Paxon has been accused of trying to exploit in the past two weeks.

On the heels of Paxon's stunning victories as NRCC chairman, Gingrich began to rely on him more and more. Facing a crisis over his own ethics-rules violations, Gingrich passed over his top four lieutenants and picked Paxon to be his floor manager for re-election as House speaker last January.

At the same time, Gingrich created the post of chairman of House leadership and let Paxon run the leadership meetings. This arrangement was a hedge against Gingrich's second-in-command, the bellicose House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.

In four short years, Paxon had shed all but a corner of pesky Democratic Erie County from his district, married a fellow member of Congress (Rep. Susan Molinari, R-Staten Island, who was vice chair of the House GOP caucus), and become his patron's most trusted colleague.

His PAC began soliciting donations from some of Hollywood's and television's most powerful players.

Paxon became more and more a national political figure, appearing on TV talk shows and being interviewed by political reporters. At the same time, he began to limit access to purely local journalists -- those whose coverage appeared in local media back in his district -- refusing to talk with some and discontinuing the practice of alerting them when he appeared in press conferences.

Now, for the first time in his political career, Paxon, 43, may have seriously miscalculated his position.

Before the talk of GOP rebellion, Paxon's wife had resigned her post as second in command of the GOP caucus, along with her seat in Congress, to take a job as a weekend anchor in New York City.

Paxon no longer runs the NRCC, which could dispense millions to Republican House incumbents. A Gingrich loyalist, Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., has taken over.

Despite these gaping holes in his safety net, Paxon met with the conspirators and apparently did not discourage them from considering him as a replacement for Gingrich. He did not inform Gingrich of the plot.

When the putsch was discovered, Gingrich made it plain that if Paxon didn't quit, he would be fired. Paxon resigned.

Right afterward, Paxon released a defiant statement without explaining exactly what he did. It spoke of a growing "crisis of confidence" about the leader who had hand-picked him to run the NRCC, control leadership meetings, and floor-manage his election as speaker.

Even last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Paxon served notice that he is down but far from out. The time to replace the party's leaders, he said, would be after the elections of 1998.

Will the concerns of the home district occupy more of Paxon's time and attention now that he is, temporarily at least, not a player in the congressional Republican leadership? That's not clear, but it seems certain that for now he has less clout.

But politics is a changing drama. Predicting Paxon's future at this point is like trying to find a trout in a muddied stream.

He is a hero to some and a goat to others. Columnist Mary McGrory charged that Paxon rewarded Gingrich with "a stab in the back." Commentator Cokie Roberts praised his nobility for being the only one of the leaders to resign. Columnist Robert Novak said Paxon is now Gingrich's only logical successor.

Time magazine called Paxon a "winner" in the plot. But The Hill, a weekly newspaper that broke the story of the aborted coup, said Paxon has been hurt in the short run.

His quick rise has been succeeded by a stunningly quick setback.

News Washington correspondent Jerry Zremski contributed to this article.