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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 26, 2018

 

Succession drama?

by Tom Sullivan

Maybe it jinxes Democrats' 2018 House prospects to raise the speaker issue, but planning now can avoid chaos later. Bloomberg explores what happens if Democrats retake the House:

The party faces conflicting pressures. If Democrats pick up 35 to 40 seats, it'll be seen as a "change" election. The incumbent leadership, which has been in place for more than decade, is Pelosi, who'll be 78, Maryland's Steny Hoyer, who will be 79, and South Carolina's James Clyburn, who will be 78. That doesn't signal change.
For all the "San Francisco liberal" scare-mongering from the right (that seems to infect some on the left), Bloomberg observes:
... the dump-Pelosi crowd ignores a couple of realities: She is an enormously effective legislative strategist, the best vote counter in the House. And while critics depict her as a San Francisco left-winger, she's more a tough-minded pol. There may not be any leader who could better keep a desperate caucus together, or protect new members representing marginal districts from having to cast ideologically risky votes.
Having had Heath Shuler as my last Democratic congressman (it's now Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows), I know those "risky" votes too well. Progressive friends complained bitterly about conservative votes Shuler took that they hated, but those votes never mattered to final passage of bills Pelosi wanted passed. As Bloomberg says, Pelosi knows how to count votes. She's still at the top of her game. But that's not the larger problem, nor is being from San Francisco. It is succession planning.

Like Democrats across the country, once leaders achieve power, they are loathe to let it go. So it is with Pelosi. Leaders hanging on until a health crisis forces retirement leaves younger activists with little hope of advancement. They have to wait their turn for a turn that may never come. That is, unless they are ambitious enough to linger long enough to become institutionalized enough, and thus everything voters hate. Some politicians escape that, true, and perhaps Pelosi is one of those. (Republicans hate her because she's effective.) But with the Democrats' farm team for speaker in its 70s, the party risks looking to #NeverAgain activists in their late teens as if it has all the institutional vigor of a men's fraternal organization.

Democrats won't win their loyalty by default. The party needs new blood and fresh ideas as well as more racial and gender diversity. Leadership must invite them in. But it will neither attract nor retain Generation Z if it gives young activists nothing more to do than lead the Pledge of Allegiance at local party meetings. Leaders at every level must move up or out, as inevitably they must, in an orderly fashion, having mentored their replacements. By doing so, they open rungs at the bottom of the ladder for young activists to step onto, and a prospect of timely advancement for the most talented. Stymie their energies and #NeverAgain will put their talents to work elsewhere. Or else simply take over the party and displace those standing in their way.

So Happy Birthday, Speaker Pelosi. You were in your twenties in the 1960s and should recognize the expression. (Steny? Maybe not.) Please, don't Bogart that joint.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.