Time To Say Buh-Bye To Reactionary Blue Dog Heath Shuler?
In terms of crucial votes taken in their entire congressional careers, only three Democrats-- Dan Boren (Blue Dog-OK), Jason Altmire (Blue Dog-PA) and Joe Donnelly (Blue Dog-IN)-- have voted more consistently with the Republicans than North Carolina Blue Dog Heath Shuler. And Boren and Donnelly have both announced they're leaving the House. Shuler's Progressive Punch score on crucial votes is 40.73, which means he's followed the lead of Boehner and Cantor on 59.67% of the crucial votes since first being elected to Congress. This year fellow North Carolina congressman, Walter Jones (R) votes more frequently with the Democrats than Shuler does! And no one in western North Carolina was surprised this week when Shuler took a big happy bite of the Satan Sandwich. He almost never votes in the interests of his constituents, so why should anyone have expected him to do so on a bill John Boehner has been bragging achieved 98% of the Republican goals.
The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature has gerrymandered the 11th congressional district to make it much harder for Shuler to win again in 2012. It's no secret that Shuler has been feeling out his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, for the open Athletic Director job. His time as the school's Heisman-winning quarterback were his glory days... and he's angling for the million dollars a year, seven year contract. He keeps denying that he's also negotiating with the GOP to switch parties and run for the seat as a Republican. That worked out badly for fellow reactionary Blue Dog Parker Griffith, who switched parties and then was defeated by an even more extreme right-wing Republican in the next primary.
Shuler knows he may not have to worry about how he'd fare in the general election in the newly gerrymandered 11th. After his record of supporting the GOP and after his vote last week for Boehner's unpopular deficit plan, many Democrats just want him out. Last spring we talked about Asheville's very popular and very progressive City Councilman, Cecil Bothwell, challenging Shuler either as an independent or as a Democrat. Bothwell is running as a Democrat and he's the first candidate to be added to this year's Blue America anti-Blue Dog page. I spoke to him this weekend about Shuler's vote for the Satan Sandwich and asked him how he would have voted. "With the 95 Democrats who opposed it," he answered firmly, a man who's sense of self-assurance comes from a coherent purpose of serving the interests of his friends and neighbors in western North Carolina.
The debt ceiling deal approved this week is a disaster. I would have joined the other 95 Democrats who voted against the plan, and I believe the new 12-member special commission it has created will prove to be every bit as problematic as the fracas we've witnessed in recent weeks.
President Obama shouldn't have taken the 14th Amendment solution off the table. He should have told the Republicans that if they didn't go along with a straight up or down vote on the debt ceiling he would be forced to intervene for the good of the nation. He permitted his opponents to drag the argument far to the right and agreed to a solution that is far to the right of popular opinion. A significant majority wants to see tax increases on those making more than $250,000 per year. Handing the keys to any tax increase to the GOP majority in the House is a mistake we will all come to regret.
I note that the agreement has had no good effect on the markets, with the Dow collapsing immediately following the agreement, and now Standard & Poors downgrading our national credit rating.
Bothwell feels he can put together a populist coalition that rejects the transpartisan right-wing agenda that has devastated the America economy and ruined job prospects in North Carolina. He sees the new district being entirely up for grabs and not something that should be looked at in terms of how many votes Obama got and how many votes McCain got-- which is the standard the legislature used in their gerrymander. "I believe," he told me, "there's a new paradigm emerging in American politics and it's very apparent here. Both Progressive Democrats and tea party Republicans exhibit a strong populist streak. Surprisingly, tea partiers support Medicare almost as strongly as do Democrats in national polls. Both are discontent with the corporatist policies of the major parties at the national level. I believe our campaign is getting through to people on both sides of the old political divide and I expect we will win."
If you'd like to help Cecil Bothwell do that, please consider donating what you can to his campaign. I expect we'll be hearing a lot more from him as he keeps North Carolina's worst Blue Dog on the run.