Wednesday, March 14, 2007



There are no longer any Republican congressmen representing strong Democratic districts; not one. There are, however quite a few Democrats representing strong Republican districts. And last November quite a few new Democratic congressmen went to work for constituents who have become comfortable being represented by Republicans over the years. Yesterday, specifically in regard to the debate over Bush's war in Iraq, I singled out John Hall and Nick Lampson.

Today I want to look at a different approach to job retention. Rahm Emanuel thinks its all about leaving policy decisions up to the Leadership (namely himself and Hoyer) while the newly elected, endangered congressman spends all his time on the phone dialing for dollars. "That isn't why I came to Congress," one disgruntled freshman explained to me. "Rahm is harder on us now than he was when we were running. He's demanding we spend all our time raising money." Raising money and... voting like a Republican. The freshmen most under Emanuel's thumb, Tim Maloney (FL), Heath Shuler (NC) Brad Ellsworth (IN) and Baron Hill (IN), all in red-leaning districts, jumped right on the Blue Dog train and have been helping to sabotage efforts to cobble together a strong Democratic initiative on Iraq.

And they're not the only ones who are running scared and playing defensively. Around a dozen freshmen from Republican-oriented districts are going the Republican-lite route, abandoning the positions popular with grassroots Democrats to curry favor with Republican voters back home. Besides the 4 mentioned above, Democrats playing footsie with a more reactionary agenda include Joe Donnelly (IN), Kirstin Gillibrand (NY), Mike Arcuri (NY), Charlie Wilson (OH), Nick Lampson (TX), Jason Altmire (PA), Nancy Boyda (KS) and several others.

Democratic freshmen in solid blue districts-- like Yvette Clarke (NY), Mazie Hirono (HI), Hank Johnson (GA), Steve Cohen (TN), and Keith Ellison (MN)-- have the luxury of taking strong stands popular with the grassroots. I'll leave freshmen in districts like that out of today's discussion. Instead let's look at how a grassroots-oriented Democratic freshman in a GOP-leaning district can get re-elected by being himself and not morphing into a proto-Republican.

Almost every Democratic congressional strategist I've spoken to-- whether a DCCC person or an independent observer-- has brought up Jerry McNerney as an endangered freshman. I beg to differ. Yes, he's in a Republican-leaning district and yes, he isn't voting like a Republican. He's sticking to his grassroots guns, keeping to the platform on which he ran and was elected (against all odds and against the predictions of the strategists, I might add).

Take a look at McNerney's website to get an idea of how a conventionally judged "vulnerable" freshman should behave in order to win re-election. Jerry is proposing and passing legislation that's important to his district, keeping the local media and his constituents aware of what he's doing, and spending a great deal of time making himself available inside the district to solicit advise from the voters. Jerry McNerney has the best local press of any freshman in Congress. He is using the power of incumbency to build real and powerful relationships with the voters, relationships that easily transcend partisanship.

If freshmen across the country were following Jerry's example, they could spend less time under the thumbs of the Dark Forces Inside the Beltway and they could also vote like Democrats, which just may be why they were elected in the first place.


The headline is certainly an attention grabber: Emanuel Tells Freshmen To Avoid Stephen Colbert. But... it's also a whitewash of the practices that make Emanuel loathed by so many freshmen reps. Our friends at My My Left Wing, on the other hand, have a much better grasp on the story.

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At 2:41 PM, Blogger TeddySanFran said...

Also, Tim Walz is keeping in touch with his new constituents well -- recognizing not everybody can hire a lobbyist or attend a midweek Town Hall Meeting, he greets 'em at the grocery stores.

It's sad that it seems novel, but isn't it great nonetheless?

At 9:54 PM, Blogger keninny said...

I would love to see Jerry McNerney's reelection serve as a model for other people who get into politics for the principle of it. One thing occurs to me about all the grass-roots outreach that Jerry is doing now that he's a sitting member of Congress--all that communing with his district. Doesn't that, at least to an extent, help him do a BETTER job?

I'm sure the constant fund-raising is still no picnic for him. But all this effort to stay in touch with what his constituents are thinking, what they need and want, and to make them aware of what he's doing in Washington and why, doesn't that actually make him a better REPRESENTATIVE for those constituents?



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