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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

A Different Approach to Accountability

I saw this first in the Washington Post, and then over at Daily Kos - labor, trial lawyers, and progressive activists are launching a PAC and a lobbying firm aimed at making sure Democratic elected officials - in this case, in Congress - vote in a manner which matches the political makeup of their districts. If Democratic Congressmen do not vote their constituencies, They Work For Us and Working For Us PAC pledges to find primary opponents for them. There's one main difference separating this organization from the plans to do the same against Texas state reps - They Work For Us says they will not target Democrats with conservative districts.

So it is a plan that makes sense: holding Democrats accountable when they come from "safe" Democratic districts, where Republicans usually run a token strident super-right-winger who has no chance of winning; more realistically, in many of these districts it is not unreasonable to say that no Republican could win, as is the opposite case with some Texas districts. As usual, there's almost never a credible third party candidate. So, these Democrats are free to do what they want, with all the advantages of incumbency and no real danger of defeat.

Consider the difference between this kind of Democrat and the Patrick Roses of the world, who come from conservative districts, in which no other Democrat on earth would have a chance of winning. Does the same dynamic exist? Are these Democrats actually voting against their districts or their constituencies? I would argue they are not. I would also argue that mounting a primary opponent against someone like Rose and defeating him for the nomination would almost certainly guarantee the loss of the seat to the Republicans.

Now, in the case of Henry Cuellar, who keeps winning by increasingly larger margins in districts that continue to get more Democratic - he was unopposed in the 2006 special election for the 28th - the details are different and important. Cuellar has been endorsed by the Club For Growth, which in their organization's description states they support Republican candidates. He got a ton of love from George Bush after last year's State of the Union address from the Republican side of the aisle. Perry appointed him Secretary of State in 2001. The Blue Dog Democrats, the conservative Democrat caucus in Congress, were so certain he would switch parties that they rejected him as a member. The jury is not out on Cuellar - it is decidedly in, and everyone knows it. Additionally, we're not just talking about one vote where there were no Democrats to vote for, as in the Speaker's race: Cuellar stridently and often fails to represent the actual bent of his district.

The difference here is that in Cuellar's district, another credible Democrat could win the general, and another credible Democrat almost certainly would win the general. In Rose's district, that seems unlikely. The local approach seems to advocate scorched earth and teaching lessons as the expense of the seat, while They Work For Us seems more geared towards the battles that make sense, in large part because the party doesn't lose a seat if the primary challenger wins.

The leadership of the group is comprised of Steve Rosenthal, former political director of AFL-CIO and ; Anna Burger, the SEIU's secretary-treasurer; Linda Lipsen, a VP at the American Association for Justice, which you used to know as the American Trial Lawyers Association; and executive director Eli Pariser. These guys are all well-known organizers and activists with a stated intent to ensure proper representation for liberal districts.

This is not necessarily a full-on endorsement of the idea of running Democrats against Democrats, but if its going to be done, a longer view in context of which districts are safe and which are not, as well as from which challenges the party would benefit most, seems more responsible, or reasonable.

Just Finished Reading Up On These Folks

I like their organizing principle; I like it a lot! The thing that I find so appealing about it is the thing you're writing about here: Differentiating based on the reality of the district.

A guy who consistently infuriated me over the last few years is former Representative Harold Ford Jr. You couldn't imagine a safer Democratic district, especially for a guy with the last name "Ford", yet he was one of the worst offenders when it came to giving the President "bipartisan cover" with his support in the House.

Like thousands of other things I've dreamt up and didn't have the time to do, I thought of a related idea right after the noxious bankruptcy reform bill passed with 73 Democratic votes in support; a simple website running simple queries on a simple database. I was going to call it "No More DINerO" and keep a running database of Democratic votes on quality of life issues that should be things all Democrats can line up and support or line up and oppose. I thought it would be a good clearinghouse for a snapshot of a Representative's or Senator's voting record that someone could go view when individual donors were ready to contribute come election time.

While the many nonsensical votes (from a district perspective, not a PAC perspective) of Democrats on the bankruptcy reform bill were what got me started thinking about this idea, my many conversations with Democratic activists in other parts of the country about the South and the Democratic Party and about Texas and the Democratic Party sharpened my focus. It never fails to sadden me abot how ideologically puritanical people from safe Democratic districts or reliably "blue" states can be about the rest of the country. There's a whole lot of people out there who are just looking for a reason to throw any Democratic representative under the train for the slightest perceived break on any and every issue imaginable.

As a Texas progressive I'm very happy to see this group!

Cooler heads prevailing

Indeed -- it's nice to see a group of people that can properly combine the political realities that face many Democratic politicians with the call for accountability that so many demand. I'm still not sold on passing judgement on voting trends of individuals without having a full understanding of the context behind their decision -- I've heard many surprising and very legitimate reasons justifying the vote, for example, of some of the "CraddickAts" that were so harshly excoriated for their decision to vote for the current speaker -- but all in all, I'd much rather that those who demand a vote-for-vote accountability of their representatives do so mindful of the political leaning of their constituency, and respect the fact that they have as much of a responsibility to their constituents, Democratic or Republican, as they do to their party.

That's a bit disingenuous, Josh.

The Iscariot Caucus isn't targeted for ideological reasons, but because they undermined the strength of the Democratic Caucus in voting for a leadership position.

That's the sort of thing that makes Kos jump up and down on his keyboard as well.

They sold out. Period. If there is an argument they did so to the benefit of their districts, the proof remains to be submitted. A good try isn't going to be enough. These folks need to bring home legislative results. Otherwise, we believe the Democratic Party is strong enough to find another candidate-who meets the profile of that district as well or better than the incumbent-to primary them.

Stop promoting the myth of Republican invincibility in Texas. It does our future candidates no more good than it does those who currently hold office.

A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are for. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Before you win, you have to fight.

I don't know a Democrat in

I don't know a Democrat in Texas that would perpetuate a "myth of Republican invincibility." I'm sure they're out there, but I don't see them here. That isn't the crux of this issue. The crux is, the vote was between a Republican and a Republican. Both are very conservative, as Pitts' voting record proves. The netroots, on the presumption that the Democratic Caucus was asked to vote a particular way on the Speaker's race (a widespread, but seemingly false, presumption, as our interview with Paula Hightower Pierson indicates), have now condemned a number of Democrats for a Craddick vote without consideration for their motivations in doing so. (We interviewed Mark Strama as well, which IIRC is also on the "CraddickAt" hit list; he also gives an honest and respectable reason for his vote.) It's nice to fantasize about how pleasant legislators would be to each other with a Pitts speakership, but conjecture isn't enough of a reason for the grassroots to shoot the party in the foot. I mention something similar here -- I'd rather have a Craddick Democrat in a seat than a Republican, if only because that puts us one step closer to a majority in the legislature and *real* power in Austin. That's pretty far from the "Republican invincibility" stance, if you ask me.

Every time we talk about

How weak we are in districts or in a caucus, we do just that.

Realistically acknowledging we're in the minority is one thing. Pretending that means we can do nothing but capitulate to the three card monte game that modern conservatism has turned into is another thing altogether.

Do you really think Barry Goldwater would put up with what passes for the Texas conservative movement? I grew up with Goldwater conservatism in AZ. He'd kick these guys asses six ways to Sunday and not even break a sweat.

I'm not sure even Russell Kirk would go that far, and he seems to me to have been a fairly sanctimonious prick.

Conservatism is about a lot more than tax cuts, no matter what Ronald Reagan sold and Grover Norquist is still peddling.

Ask the residents of the Gulf Coast what modern conservatism does for them.

That's not Texas values. Don't let them sell it as such. Texans may be traditionalists, but that means they value integrity, promises made and kept, and candor not shell game government.

The choice here is not necessarily a Craddick D or a Republican. You're setting up a false dichotomy, because this vote was not an ideological issue.

This is not about motivations, but results. Every bad piece of legislation that comes to the floor because King Craddick wishes it so is weighed in that consideration. Every good piece that dies before it comes to the floor because of spite or a lobbyist's hold on the speaker's ear is as well. The counterweight will be the results the D's who sided with the Craddick status quo are able to accomplish. If they bring home some good legislation, I'll be happy to acknowledge the same.

But that's only going to be clear in retrospect, not anticipation.

Craddick was not an unknown quantity as a leader. Pitts may have been just as bad, but we do not have any way to judge that now.

Whose list is Mark on, btw? I've seen no suggestion of targeting him.

IIRC he voted for the Geren Amendment, which was the ball game essentially. Once Pitt withdrew, I've no real quarrel with those who did so, but then voted for the sole candidate for Speaker.

Though I do feel an extra pride and investment in the 27 members of the Courage Caucus, who stood up and voted "NO" and will no doubt feel the consequences.

A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are for. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Before you win, you have to fight.

The dichotomy I set up of a

The dichotomy I set up of a Craddick D vs. a Republican isn't a false one, because the "ideological issue" you mention isn't what I'm talking about, or the point of the post either. It's that in heavily Republican districts, it's a foolhardy risk to primary out an incumbent Democrat that is likely just about the only Democrat that could've won that district -- perhaps because of a conservative ideology, but more likely because in his small district, he is the guy that everybody knows -- lifelong resident, says hi to everybody in the grocery store because he knows them all by first name, because he grew up with them -- good luck identifying others of that breed that are also Democrats, and willing to run for office. In that respect, the Craddick vote is just not that big an issue.

I specifically mentioned

I specifically mentioned Patrick Rose because his district was representative of the argument I was making - that a scorched earth approach is wrong-headed. That is not to say that all, or even most, or even half of the Democrats that voted for Craddick come from similar districts.

Obviously Republicans are not invulnerable in Texas, as we had several Democratic pickups in close districts that likely would have been written off by everyone if they had lacked a credible candidate. Some of them were written off for a while anyways, despite strong candidates, and that's a shame.

I'm not sure I said anything to perpetuate "the myth of Republican invincibility in Texas," and that certainly was not my intent. Rather, my intent was to point out that generically, if you defeat a conservative Democrat in a close district in the primary, in most situations that seat would be seriously imperiled in the general, and now that we are within just a few seats of taking back the house, that approach goes against the interests of the Democratic Party.

I keep hearing from folks in Patrick's district

That it's turning bluer.

At any rate, I do not believe that Patrick Rose is the only Democrat in that district that could represent it creditably.

Is the bench really so thin there, in your estimation?

A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are for. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Before you win, you have to fight.

It's not that he's the only

It's not that he's the only Democrat that could represent it -- it's that he's the only Democrat that could win.

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