Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Opportunity Knocks, Will Democratic Leadership Answer-- Or Even Hear?


by Hermina Rodriguez

You wouldn’t know it from the headlines, but tomorrow is a very big day for the environment. The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is meeting to decide who will succeed newly minted Sen. Ed Markey as ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee. Whoever the Committee chooses will be a leading Democratic spokesman on environmental policy for years to come. Rep. Raúl Grijalva is up for the position, and I hope he gets it. [Editor's Note: Everyone at DWT hopes he gets it.]

Rep. Grijalva stands as the only challenger to Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the second-ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. There is no doubt that many members in the Democratic Caucus leadership support Rep. DeFazio, the longest-serving member sitting on the Natural Resources Committee, as the more conventional candidate despite DeFazio’s inconsistent voting record on central Democratic issues. Powerful Democrats, including Reps. George Miller and Rosa DeLauro, are speaking up for Rep. DeFazio-- who himself sits on Steering and Policy-- as the more senior choice. Rep. Grijalva needs our voices to be heard on his behalf.

In making its recommendations, the Democratic Policy and Steering Committee is charged to consider merit, service to the committee, commitment to the party’s agenda, and diversity in addition to seniority. Yet many of Rep. DeFazio’s supporters insist the Oregon Democrat deserved the position by virtue of his seniority alone, overlooking and even ignoring Rep. DeFazio’s dismal voting record on environmental issues, immigration policy and gun violence.

Meanwhile Grijalva has been mischaracterized as a candidate seeking to undermine the Democratic Caucus’ seniority system. In reality his bid is neither unusual nor disrespectful to the process. On many occasions the Democratic Caucus elected the less senior member over more senior colleagues vying for the same leadership position. If seniority were the only thing that mattered, Democrats wouldn’t have the leadership team they have today. We all remember when Rep. Henry Waxman took over Energy and Commerce from Rep. John Dingell. More recently, Rep. Mike Michaud took over as the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee over the more senior Rep. Corrine Brown; Rep. Nita Lowey jumped over Rep. Marcy Kaptur on Appropriations; Rep. Elijah Cummings took over on Oversight and Government Reform ahead of Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

If the years have taught us anything, it’s that seniority is important but it is not absolute in determining the next party leaders. In many cases Democrats pick the person they think best represents the values of the party rather than just someone with more years in Washington.

Seniority is not-- and should not-- be at issue here. The real issue here is whether the Democratic leadership will choose to be representative of diverse voices that reflect America’s changing demographics. In the aftermath of the 2012 one thing remains clear: with Latinos at the epicenter of a historic policy debate around immigration reform and related policies, Democratic leadership can ill-afford not to have the unique perspective and voice of Latino members of Congress among its leadership ranks.

Tomorrow’s closed door meeting will offer Democratic leadership the opportunity to address the stark Latino disparity among its ranks. Whether they will seize the opportunity and respond to the call of almost 200 environmental groups, tribal nations, and Latino organizations supporting Grijalva’s appointment to ranking member remains to be seen. But these groups are offering a perspective of a growing demographic-- one that is not usually involved in deciding party leadership, but certainly will be deciding the nation’s leadership in just fourteen short months from now. If the Steering and Policy Committee chooses to ignore their voices, it will be certain that their deliberations are more about their personal agenda and egos rather than the concerns of their constituents or the merits of the candidate.

I hope Grijalva wins, but I know that his bid faces an uphill battle. This does not have to be the case and it won’t be the reality if the Democratic Caucus is serious about the Latino community and embracing diversity and solid environmental positions by choosing to elect Raúl Grijalva to lead the Natural Resources Committee. Latinos have earned the opportunity to be well represented in Congress. It would be unacceptable for Democratic leaders to forgo this opportunity.

Latino advocates are watching closely, as are environmentalists, labor leaders and progressives.  While we may never know where each Members stood on this private ballot vote, if and when Rep. Grijalva’s bid for ranking member is rejected the blame will be universal. These are the members of the Steering Committee:

Xavier Becerra (CA)
Joe Crowley (NY)
Karen Bass (CA)
John Lewis (GA)
GK Butterfield (NC)
Diane DeGette (CO)
Jan Schakowsky (IL)
Peter Welch (VT)
Robert Andrews (NJ)
Steny Hoyer (MD)
Nita Lowey (NY)
Maxine Waters (CA)
Louise Slaughter (NY)
Sander Levin (MI)
Barabara Lee (CA)
Bobby Rush (IL)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX)
Cedric Richmond (LA)
Yvette Clarke (NY)
Niki Tsongas (MA)
Gwen Moore (WI)
Frank Pallone (NJ)
Tim Ryan (OH)
Jackie Speier (CA)
Nydia Velazquez (NY)
Dan Kildee (MI)
Keith Ellison (MN)
Bruce Braley (IA)
Mike Doyle (PA)
Tammy Duckworth (IL)
John Larson (CT)
Carolyn Maloney (NY)
Nancy Pelosi (CA)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
Allyson Schwartz (PA)
Jim Clyburn (SC)
Steve Israel (NY)
Jim Matheson (UT)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)
Chris Van Hollen (MD)
Henry Waxman (CA)
Susan Davis (CA)
Betty McCollum (MN)
John Barrow (GA)
John Carney DE)
John Yarmouth (KY)
Jared Polis (CO)
Tim Walz (MN)
Ben Ray Lujan (NM)
Rosa DeLauro (CT)
George Miller (CA)
Pete DeFazio (OR)

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