Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Question Remains … Whose Interests Would Kathleen Matthews Represent If Elected?


-by Jeffrey Hearn

I finished writing the following post when there was about a week left in the 2016 Democratic primary campaign in Maryland’s Eighth congressional district. I was then working for Jamie Raskin, the progressive front-runner for the nomination whose chief rival throughout the primary had been Beltway insider Kathleen Matthews.

But the race had become more complicated when billionaire businessman David Trone entered late and spent over $13 million during the final ninety days of the primary. Some of that money was spent on an ad that aggressively, and many would say unfairly, attacked Raskin and Matthews, and the Raskin campaign pushed back against the Trone ad by criticizing him for going negative. That response effectively rendered this piece unpublishable, so it never saw the light of day. Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, Kathleen Matthews announced that she was throwing her hat into the ring for Maryland Democratic State Chair, after having been recruited to run by establishment Democrats Steny Hoyer, Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen. The piece that follows suddenly seemed relevant again as the question became: Whose interests will Kathleen Matthews represent if she is chosen state party chair? Because the DNC Chair race is not the only place where the future of the Democratic Party will be decided.

The fact that Kathleen Matthews, candidate for Congress in Maryland's Eighth District, is also the wife of Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC, has been a touchy subject since her campaign's earliest days, when some of the press coverage of her entrance into the race seemed to suggest that "wife of" was the most newsworthy line on her resume. Offense was quite reasonably taken by some when the candidate's own professional accomplishments couldn't find their way into the headline, but "wife of" could.

That said, the worst offenders on this score tended to be publications for whom the Chris Matthews hook truly was the only thing that made the story newsworthy, either because their focus was the national media beat (Mediaite, the "On Media" column at Politico) or because they were right-wingers obsessed with the MSNBC pundit (Breitbart, NewsBusters.org). It was also true that the "wife of" characterizations provided Matthews with the kind of publicity—favorable publicity, as often as not—that money just can't buy. And even when you're a candidate who can easily self-fund an expensive political campaign if you want to, as Kathleen Matthews can, (see her Financial Disclosure Statement here [pdf]) "earned media" is almost always a nice thing to receive.

Almost always, but not always.

Last month the Chris Matthews factor earned Kathleen Matthews some unwelcome media coverage when David Dayen of The Intercept reported that
48 frequent guests of Matthews’s program … have made donations to the Kathleen Matthews for Congress campaign. These individuals, their spouses, or their political action committees donated $79,050 as of December 31, 2015 — about 5 percent of the $1.5 million Matthews had raised as of that time.
Initially, everyone seemed to see it as a story about Chris Matthews. The entertainment columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News thought the central issue was whether the Hardball host could "fairly interview those contributors on his program and what's the minimum amount of disclosure he needs to provide viewers." Right-wing critics, however, tried to spin the story as a pay-for-play scandal; suggesting Hardball was booking guests in exchange for campaign contributions to the host's wife. This overreaching by the right, in turn, handed the Matthews camp the opening it needed to play the sexism card and attempt to spin the story to it's own advantage.

But the original piece at The Intercept had raised another issue that was lost on the media critics and right-wingers.

"What the donations do reflect are the many political friendships [Chris] Matthews has cultivated as a longtime Washington pundit, whether he personally solicited them or not. In Washington, political friends often help each other out."
The Washington Post, reporting on the reaction of other candidates in the race to the Hardball guest/donor story, then brought the focus back around to the campaign and Kathleen Matthews.
Three candidates in the 8th … say the donations from Washington A-listers raise questions about whose interests Matthews will represent if she wins

Kathleen Matthews began her campaign by seeking to demonstrate her connections to the community she would nominally represent if elected. At her official campaign launch, she started by introducing family, friends, and staff by way of their ties to Montgomery County, or, at least, to "the area." For her part, here is how she put it on the Kojo Nnamdi Show's Politics Hour early in the campaign:
[M]y ties to the area are really deep, not only as a working mom who raised her family here, but also those 25 years on the air [as a local television reporter and news anchor]… so I really know the area, I love the people here, and I share a lot of their concerns and frustration right now with government.
But questions regarding her roots in the community she was presumably running to represent were raised from the beginning, too.

At that Kojo Nnamdi Show appearance, veteran D.C. political reporter Tom Sherwood made reference to hearing her described as "Mile High Matthews," serving on the Boards of D.C. institutions such as the Shakespeare Theater and Ford's Theater and such, but wondered about her ties, not simply to "the area," but to the congressional district she was now running in.

Whose interests … ?

What are your ties … ?

Which community … ?

* * *

It has been known by many names. A generation ago, Lewis Lapham called it "Versailles on the Potomac."
"Like the notables assembled under the king's roof at Versailles, official Washington divides the known world into only two parts. First there is Washington, then there is everyplace else"
More recently, Mark Leibovich of the New York Times profiled "The Club" in its present form in his book This Town. "Washington has become … a permanent feudal class of insiders.," said Leibovich in an appearance on the PBS Newshour. "These are people who are in office, people who were formerly in office, staffers, journalists, hangers-on, and you have this insider class that becomes self-perpetuating."

On an episode of Moyers and Company devoted to the book, Bill Moyers laid out a key observation Leibovich makes regarding the way the Washington establishment works.
[M]any American's see Washington today as a polarized, dysfunctional city. One that is not sufficiently bipartisan. But you describe it as a place that becomes a determinately bipartisan team when there is money to be made.
Then, as Moyers called the names on a "roll call of influence peddlers" for the next twenty minutes, inviting Leibovich to provide examples to illustrate his point about bipartisan team spirit in The Club, one after another, after another, after another of the names called turned out to be contributors to the Kathleen Matthews for Congress campaign.

  • Ken Duberstein (former Chief of Staff, Reagan White House, and current Chairman and CEO, The Duberstein Group, gave $1000 to Kathleen Matthews for Congress), Tony Podesta (Founder and Chairman, The Podesta Gorup, gave $500), Steve McMahon (CEO and Founding Partner, Purple Strategies, gave $2700), and Hillary Rosen (Managing Director, SKDKnickerbocker, gave $500), of BP's Gulf oil spill crisis management "Beltway Dream Team"

  • Jack Quinn (former Clinton White House Counsel, Chief of Staff, to Vice President Gore, and current Chairman and Co-Founder, QGA Public Affairs, gave $1000)

  • John Breaux (former U.S. Senator and current Co-Chair, Public Policy Practice, Squire Patton Boggs, gave $1000), and the late Tommy Boggs (was Senior Partner, Squire Patton Boggs. Widow Barbara Boggs, Treasurer of Kathleen Matthews for Congress, gave $2700)

  • Richard Gephardt (former Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives, and current President and CEO, Gephardt Government Affairs. Thomas O'Donnell, Managing Partner, Gephardt Government Affairs, gave $2700)

  • Evan Bayh (former U.S. Senator and current Senior Advisor, Federal Public Affairs, McGuireWoods Consulting, gave $2000)

  • Chris Dodd (former U.S. Senator and current Chairman and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America. Wife Jackie Clegg-Dodd gave $500)

  • Byron Dorgan (former U.S. Senator and current Senior Policy Advisor, Arent Fox. Wife Kimberly Dorgan gave $250)

  • Anita Dunn (former Director of Communications, Obama White House, current campaign strategist and advisor for Kathleen Matthews for Congress, and, as a Managing Director at SKDKnickerbocker, a partner of the aforementioned Hilary Rosen, gave $2700)

Kathleen Matthews thinks the problem with Washington is that it is a polarized, dysfunctional city, too. As she said on the Politics Hour:
I also think one of the frustrations people have right now is they believe we have gridlock in Washington, and we don't see bipartisan efforts to get to good things on behalf of all the people
As Leibovich has shown, the Beltway establishment stands for nothing if not bipartisanship. For them, it is the hyper-partisanship of the Tea Party and other movement conservatives that is the problem. And, for them, the solution to this problem is clear: a restoration of the ancien regime. A return to power of Versailles on the Potomac, a return to the status quo ante, a return to business as usual.

But, to be fair, it's not as if the Kathleen Matthews campaign slogan is "Let them eat cake!" Far from it.

Enter Digby.

Taking her cue from a classic Sally Quinn article in the Washington Post about the Washington establishment's "let down feeling" in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the progressive blogger Digby coined a term which can help us find Kathleen Matthews' true place in the political landscape: The Village.
It's shorthand for the permanent DC ruling class who have managed to convince themselves that they are simple, puritanical, bourgeois burghers and farmers, even though they are actually celebrity millionaires influencing the most powerful government on earth.

It's about their phoniness, their pretense of speaking for "average Americans" when it's clear they haven't the vaguest clue even about the average Americans who work in their local Starbucks or drive their cabs. (Think Tim Russert, good old boy from Buffalo, lately of Nantucket.)

… a metaphor for the faux "middle class values" that the wealthy, insular, privileged, hypocritical political celebrities (and their hangers-on and wannabes) present to the nation.
Is Kathleen Matthews a Villager? You decide.

Here's the story she tells:

"I'm the product of the middle-class."

Our dad worked hard for a medical device company and our mom knew how to stretch a middle class salary to support a family of seven. She was frugal, prioritized education, and encouraged us to give back. I worked during high school and college to help pay for school …”

“In Washington, I found a kindred political spirit in my husband, who had also grown up in a middle class family of 5 children. We started in entry-level jobs in Congress and journalism and have been lucky to move up in careers we love.”

“But you know, [journalism is] not a glamorous life. I mean, you work your butt off in journalism. I worked weekends. I worked nights. … for many years, when I had three kids, I would commute from my home in Chevy Chase, Maryland down to work, do the five o'clock news, go home, pick up dinner at the Safeway, feed my kids, work on their homework, come back and do the eleven o'clock news, and I did that for years.”

"I think people know that I'm just a regular working mom."

It's very difficult to put together day care scenarios that work on your different shifts. For me, working five, six, and eleven o'clock news, really challenging to find day care on those kinds of shifts.”

“I'm a working mom that raised her kids in Montgomery County, and I bring that experience, which I think relates to a lot of families, working families, in the area.”

“… all the while being a working mom, raising my own kids, struggling, working nights, weekends, trying to get day care, helping my mother, who was dying, getting treatment at NIH, so I know the struggles of working families, I've lived those struggles with you , all of you here in the room.”

“Like many on the panel here, my husband came to Washington, him out of the Peace Corps, me out of college, with college loans and college debt. We got married, we raised three kids, and over eighty years of combined salaries, we're in a position now where I can quit my job and run for Congress full time.”

“So, that's really kind of the thread of my campaign. It's a working mom's campaign, who wants to help more working families in America …”

And here are parts of the story that get left out:

Her father didn't exactly toil in obscurity at some anonymous medical device company, struggling to put food on the table. He was educated at the University of Illinois, and later at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he was a student of the renowned architect Mies van der Rohe. He went on to become a faculty member at IIT before going to work for the seminal Silicon Valley biotech firm Beckmann Instruments as an HR executive, not only in southern and northern California, but also in Geneva, Switzerland.

By the time Kathleen and Chris Matthews married, Chris had already served as a speech writer in the Carter White House and would spend the next eight years as a top aide to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill. And with Kathleen working in local television as a producer (soon to be reporter), it was, from the start, a two-career household as well, so one might reasonably speculate that their student loan payments were nowhere near the burden they have become for so many today.

With Chris rapidly rising through the ranks of the punditocracy after leaving Capitol Hill in 1987, and Kathleen being promoted to anchor at D.C.'s ABC affiliate in 1991, the couple was able to afford a $950,000 home in Chevy Chase, Maryland by 1993. Mark Leibovich would later describe it as "sun-lit, art-filled and cozy, with three Mercedes of various sizes and degrees of wear in the driveway."

Later that same year, Chris and Kathleen Matthews decided they could afford a nanny, too. Hired through the White House Nannies agency (which was doing land office business at the time as a result of the Nannygate scandal that had sunk the nomination of Zoe Baird as U.S. Attorney General earlier that year), the nanny stayed with the Matthews family for three years, from 1993-96.
Kathleen and Chris Matthews had much better luck with the Mount Holyoke graduate I sent them that same month. Gianna cared for their three children while Kathleen anchored the local news and Chris was making his national mark with Hardball. (Barbara Kline, White House Nannies, 2005)

And then there's Nantucket.
In summer, Nantucket is a remarkable re-creation of Washington politics, fundraisers, and restaurant life, confined to a 3.5-by-14-mile resort island. (Sally Brady, "See You at the Shore," Washingtonian, August 2003)
Like many elite Washingtonians, Chris and Kathleen have a summer home on Nantucket, purchased in 2004 for $4.35 million. Five bedrooms, four baths. Inground pool. Five acres leading down to the beach.

When asked about an upcoming Nantucket fundraiser last July, Kathleen made a point of stressing that it would be "hosted by my friends from the Washington area who happen not to be here. I'm here." What she didn't stress was that she had been on Nantucket for the better part of a week the month before to attend the Nantucket Film Festival, and would be back not just for her own campaign fundraiser but for the American Ireland Fund event the next week.

And then there's one other part of the story that doesn't get said: Kathleen Matthews' Financial Disclosure Statement [pdf] reveals that she and Chris are worth, at a minimum, $22.5 million. Wealthier than all but about 20 current members of Congress. Wealthier, in fact, than all but three members of the U.S. Senate, AKA the "Millionaire's Club."

Again, Digby: " [I]t is an extremely common trait among the DC courtiers. They truly seem to believe they are just regular guys --- and therefore, their concerns are the same as regular Americans. Only, you know, they aren't."

* * *

Yes, Kathleen Matthews has lived in Chevy Chase, in Montgomery County, in Maryland's Eighth congressional district, for well over twenty years now. But where, really, has she been putting down roots all this time? Where are her deepest ties? Where has she really been living her life all these years?

Call it Versailles on the Potomac, call it The Club, call it The Village. Whatever you call that place, there can be no denying that Kathleen Matthews is at home there. And as the Hardball guest/donor story and the roll call of the usual suspects Bill Moyers elicited from Mark Leibovich both make clear, that community knows who it thinks would best represent its interests.

So, whose interests will Kathleen Matthews represent if she is elected? The interests of her community, no doubt.

It's just a matter of figuring out which one.


"The Non-Denial Denial: Kathleen Matthews and Marriott's Government Affairs"

"Kathleen Matthews: AKA Kathy Cunningham, Republican Political Operative"

Jeffrey Hearn is an historian by training. He is also a longtime movement progressive a longtime resident of Maryland’s Eighth District, and a Jamie Raskin supporter, something he has previously blogged about here.

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At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would appear you have your answer.

Same interests that the DNC, DxCCs and 95% of the other democraps serve.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Akshaysri said...

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At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whose Interests Would Kathleen Matthews Represent If Elected?

Anyone who has watched Tweety knows who she would support - the Republicans. Tweety would probably felate them on his show if that was allowed.

So would she.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Tony Puca said...

I was the other nominated candidate for tis post and my entire speech was geared to party inclusion for all factions of the party and the people from all portions of the state. I was honored to be nominated by the DLC-African American board member and even more so when Party Chair Bruce Poole who was stepping down made the 2nd and spoke about my history of over 40 years of progressive politics for the party and people of our state. Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin continued that theme in their speeches about me. But this post isn't about me it's about the fact the leaders of the party realize it is important for all the factions of our party to be involved in the party in every position and they intend to make it happen. I spoke to Kathleen Matthews after the election and she honestly wants to include everyone in the party and grow the party. While I've had fellow progressives ask me what she's ever done for the party I point to the fact her politics are really progressive. When people talk about her wealth I point to the fact John Delaney is worth $282 million, David Trone is worth $60 million and Jaime Raskin, a true progressive, is worth $6.8 million dollars so comments using her wealth against her are not relevant in light of the wealth of other local candidates including Jaime who the author supported. The vote for full time party chair on May 6th will be well advertised and open to all and I may run. The one thing I know regardless of who is elected I will work with them as hard as possible to make our party inclusive. If the winner is Kathleen I'm sure she will be very sincere in working to make the party inclusive. I just am not comfortable with people knocking her for matters that do not reflect her politics and what she wants to do in the future. As one of this states leading progressive politicians for 42 years I do not feel the above article was a fair treatment of a person who wants to commit 4 years at no pay trying to make our party better. May we elect the best possible candidate on May 6th and then all work with that person to beat Hogan in 2018 and grow our party for all. Thank you. Tony Puca

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Jeffrey Hearn said...

See also: "Progressive Discontent in Maryland," by Robert Woodruff, Progressive Maryland blog, March 15, 2017



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