TRAINING DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES TO... WIN ELECTIONS? BE GOOD LITTLE DCCC MEMBERS?
This past weekend there was a meeting in Chicago that was put together by AFSCME, the New House PAC, Christine Pelosi, and the DCCC. Nancy Pelosi and Chris Van Hollen were there and Rahm Emanuel video-phoned in. The meeting was billed as an "internal training" for Democratic candidates and although I've talked off the record with several attendees, other than Christine Pelosi, I found the principals and organizers to be very squirrely about the whole shebang. Very hush, hush.
Just try to get a list of who attended-- let alone who invited them! The DCCC, of course, aren't responding and the AFSCME folks say they'll "get back" to me. New House PAC has an unlisted phone number and no e-mail address available online but I still managed to track down an officer. He was cold, secretive and... he'll "get back" to me too. When I asked him who the candidates who were invited were and how they got picked, the temperature on the phone dropped to 20 below zero, kind of like what happened when I asked the same question of the various AFSCME people I spoke with.
The background to the story starts with what I took to be a promise from Chris Van Hollen, the guy who became Chair of the DCCC when Emanuel went on to greater glory running the Democratic House Caucus. Van Hollen is a progressive congressman from Maryland who earned his seat the old fashioned way-- beating a Republican incumbent (after winning a hotly contested primary during which he was not the Insider Establishment favorite). I contrast that to Emanuel who, in effect, was awarded his seat by the corrupt Daley machine and the decadent Clinton Regime-- for services (like the heavy lifting among Democrats on Clinton's Republican-oriented NAFTA bill) rendered-- and had no Republican standing in his way, just a progressive Democrat, Nancy Kazak, in the primary, a primary handled, at least in part, for Emanuel by someone currently residing in a prison cell... for-- what a coincidence-- political corruption.
Oh, so the promise... I asked CVH on a blogger conference call if the DCCC would refrain from helping defeat grassroots progressives in primaries against insider candidates, the way they did while Emanuel ran the show. He assured me they would not interfere in primaries. Lately I've been hearing from some progressive, grassroots candidates from around the country that the DCCC is either recruiting conservative candidates against them or favoring their insider opponents. The DCCC folks I've talked to vehemently deny this-- sometimes convincingly.
Americans can't understand why, with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress there has been not an inch of ground won against the Bush Regime in terms of Iraq and that, with the exception of the minimum wage bill, there has been virtually nothing of real significance accomplished by Nancy "Off the Table" Pelosi since she became House Speaker. Well, look no further than last year's DCCC recruitment. If you examine the Progressive Punch scores, ranked by Democrats most likely to vote with the GOP in a tough roll call vote, you will find among the 20 most disloyal Democrats-- the ones who support Bush's policies and the toxic Republican agenda-- 10 freshmen (that's 50%, an astoundingly large figure). And just who are these ten freshmen? In order of bad to worse:
Tim Mahoney (FL), an actual Republican recruited by Emanuel who muscled a progressive, grassroots Democrat, Dave Lutrin, out of the way so Mahoney would have no primary.
Harry Mitchell (AZ)
Zach Space (OH)
Baron Hill (IN)
Brad Ellsworth (IN)
Joe Donnelly (IN)
Heath Shuler (NC), another Emanuel recruit who, during his campaign, wouldn't even commit to voting for Pelosi for Speaker
Chris Carney (PA)
Jason Altmire (PA)
Nick Lampson (TX)
With "Democrats" like these it's no wonder we don't have an effective Democratic majority in the House to do the kinds of things
I just got off the phone with a friend of mine-- a DC insider, but a good guy-- who told me that Van Hollen, who he feels is a decent guy, would never in a million years have gotten the DCCC Chairmanship if he hadn't agreed to be Emanuel's "butt-boy." That makes me sad, even if it doesn't shock me. Of course, there are always more ways to look at any situation and I bet CVH doesn't see himself as Emanuel's butt boy. People who work at the DCCC who admire him and don't feel similarly about Emanuel disagree... strongly.
So... who got invited to the bootcamp and who invited them? And who got left out? And why?
Many of the invitees make complete sense: consensus candidates with no primaries-- in other words, Democrats who are already battling Republicans like Darcy Burner (WA), John Boccieri (OH), Charlie Brown (CA), Jim Himes (CT), Eric Massa (NY), Dan Maffei (NY), Mary Jo Price (OH). But others are in hotly contested primaries. That's where the problem starts. Let me give you the full list of candidates who were there from what I've been able to piece together after interviewing people from early this morning.
*John Adler (NJ-03) who is fighting rubber stamp Republican incumbent Jim Saxton
*John Boccieri (OH-16) who will contest an open Republican seat
*Charlie Brown (CA-04) battling it out with Doolittle of whichever wingnut beats him in the GOP primary
*Darcy Burner (WA-08) driving the final stake into the heart of Dave Reichert
*Steve Driehaus (OH-01) battling Bush-fave Steve Chabot who is getting a Bush funder in return for his vote to sustain the S-CHIP veto
*Joan Fitz-Gerald (CO-02), an insider who is fighting grassroots Democrats Jared Polis and Will Shafroth
*Bill Foster (IL-14), Emanuel's Blue Dog millionaire candidate trying to push grassroots hero John Laesch out of the race
*Larry Grant (ID-01), the favorite in a primary race with Rand Lewis
*Martin Heinrich (NM-01), the favorite in a primary with Jon Adams
*Jim Himes (CT-04), busy putting rubber stamp Republican warmonger Chris Shays out of his misery
*Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), putting the finishing touch of relieving the Republicans of representing this seat they're abandoning
*Bill Kennedy (MT-AL), Schweitzer's, Baucus' and Tester's candidate to take on Denny Rehberg, the last elected federal officeholder in this "red" state
*Bob Lord (AZ-03), fighting to retire far right extremist loon John Shadegg
*Dan Maffei (NY-25), in the last stages of ending the pitiful career of rubber stamp Republican James Walsh
*Betsy Markey (CO-04), the only one left standing to take on Marilyn Musgrave
*Eric Massa (NY-29), putting the finishing touches on the political demise of right-wing idiot Randy Kuhl
*Bill McCamley (NM-02), in a primary battle with Al Kissling
*Bill O'Neill (OH-14), the perfect consensus candidate to replace rubber stamp Republican Steven LaTourette
*Gary Peters (MI-09), in a brutal primary race against Nancy Skinner
*Jon Powers (NY-26), the favorite in a primary against proto-Republican Alice Kryzan
*Mark Schauer (MI-07), the favorite in a primary against last year's opponent to Tim Walberg
*Dan Seals (IL-10), the favorite in a primary against Jay Footlik
*Ron Shepston (CA-42), this year's dragon-slayer against lunatic extremist Gary Miller
*John Unger (WV-02), fighting rubber stamp Republican Shelley Moore Capito
*Dick Versace (IL-18), the Democrat/ex-NBA coach who will be running for the seat being abandoned by Ray LaHood.
In the middle of all this I just spent an hour and a half on the phone with Christine Pelosi; that poor woman. I wouldn't wish me on anyone, let alone someone so positive and enthusiastic and idealistic. She pointed out this was her training, not the DCCC's training... you know, like the one at YearlyKos she did. I think I persuaded her to come over to FDL in November to talk about her book, Campaign Boot Camp-- Basic Training For Our Future Leaders-- which comes out November 5. That said... Chris Van Hollen, Nancy Pelosi, Brain Wolff (the DCCC's political director), Rahm Emanuel (via pre-recorded video), Larry Scanlon of AFSCME and several others were at these sessions. It appears to me that there was great value to the sessions, something confirmed to me by half a dozen participants today. And here's what someone who wasn't an invitee has to say about it. Jared Polis, a grassroots candidate running in Colorado, whose primary opponent-- insider primary opponent-- Joan Fitz-Gerald was an invitee:
The Democratic establishment frequently stifles the voice of the netroots and grassroots communities.
As I talk to Democratic voters across my district, I find that they are increasingly fed-up with the way Washington DC Democrats keep giving in to Republicans. Whether it’s making it harder for working families to emerge from bankruptcy, ending the war in Iraq, leaving gender identity out of ENDA, or letting telcos off the hook for illegal surveillance, the Democratic establishment risks increasingly estranging itself from where our voters are, and more importantly where our values are. You would never know that Democrats held strong values if you look at what comes out of the insular DC insiders. We are the party of values; let’s start living them and celebrate dissent and diversity.
Christine, bless her heart, must have called the DCCC because-- BOOM!-- they just called me back. Jennifer Crider, the Communications Director had this to say (exact words): "Anyone from the D Triple C's participation at the event is not an endorsement of a particular candidate." I'm so relieved. Let me ask Jared Polis, Sharon Renier, John Laesch, Jay Footlik, Nancy Skinner and some of the others how they feel about that. I'm going to a lecture by Edmund White at the Library now but more on this later.
UPDATE: EDMUND WHITE IS MY NEW HERO-- AND IT'S ALL LOVE AND KISSES ON THE POLITICAL FRONT TODAY
Although my new favorite person in the world of politics advised me not to put crazy things in my blog-- for strategic reasons-- like when someone calls Van Hollen Rahm's "butt boy" (because it sounds anti-gay, not because of the implications of the political relationship), all the Insider calls regarding the above story were really good-- and even useful. Someone from AFSCME took responsibility for inviting Joan FitzGerald and said "Joan has already been endorsed by AFSCME and has regularly stood with and been a great advocate for working families. That doesn't mean that Polis isn't but she's been there with us." I got a chance to explain why Rahm Emanuel is a wolf in sheep's clothing for America's working families and that the reason he is even a congressman was a reward for the dirty job he did in pushing through NAFTA.
Someone from the New House PAC called and took responsibility for inviting the Blue Dog in IL-14 to the training instead of the progressive grassroots candidate, John Laesch. He asked me to make the case for why John should be the Democratic candidate and afterwards he said he wished he had spoken to me before the invitations went out and asked me to put him in touch with John.
Meanwhile I spoke with a number of candidates and read a blog post from Martin Heinrich on how great the training was, something almost everyone who hadn't gone to a Wellstone training echoed. Candidates seemed really enthusiastic about two speakers, David Brock from Media Matters and Fred Ross, Jr. from SIEU whose call for field operations and old fashioned grassroots organizing was a welcome reprieve from the constant drumbeat of "money, money, money." And, predictably, the lowpoint of the weekend was provided by Emanuel who-- in much the same way he told Democrats last year to play down the anti-war message, causing several who listened to him to lose their races-- demanded candidates inoculate themselves against expected GOP attacks by moving to the right on immigration. Emanuel, who has never had to face a Republican in an electoral fight and has demonstrated he knows nothing about it, can be most useful for Democratic candidates if he's used as a counter-indication on how to proceed. And as far as the immigration issue per se, Chris Bowers covers son of Israeli immigrants Emanuel's cowardly or xenophobic perspective very astutely at OpenLeft.