By Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Portland, Oregon.
It's interesting to return to Capitol Hill enthusiastic about the prospects, excited about my new colleagues, and with a torrent of ideas that I have been thinking about and working on for 10 years, which now may actually find their way into reality.
Somewhat disquieting is that much of this luster is tempered by a very hard fought contest for majority leader between Steny Hoyer and Jack Murtha. I find myself speculating more about what this means for Democrats and the new Congress than the race itself. This will be a test about our leadership and about the nature of our Democratic majority, and our ability to deal with difficult decisions.
The Murtha candidacy is fueled by, and much of the support based on, Jack's amazing about-face on the war in Iraq. Jack is perhaps more strongly identified with a strong military defense than anyone else in the House. Once he was convinced that Iraq was going in the wrong direction, being inadequately managed and with money spent not just ineffectively but foolishly, he became the most effective spokesperson against our current policy. Indeed, I think it is no exaggeration to say his decision, not just to oppose the war but to come out so forcefully and clearly, was a defining moment for the Bush administration, the earliest, strongest signal that the Emperor was wearing no clothes.
Murtha's stance also played a key role in the election of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Jack captured what people suspected about the war and helped energize people across America. There is little doubt that several people were elected as a direct result of his efforts, and that many more were part of a growing tide to which Jack made a critical contribution.
Steny Hoyer has by all accounts run the whip operations well for Democrats. He has been a tireless campaigner visiting dozens of districts and raising millions of dollars. Having a far more liberal voting record than Jack, Steny is perceived as being the moderate choice in this race by most observers, and I dare say most people, in the Democratic caucus.
The presumptive speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader who captains our ship, has been steadfast and amazingly successful. She has shown unprecedented effectiveness in her roles -- first as whip and now as Democratic leader. Her success as speaker in the 110th Congress is critical not just for Democrats but for the American public. A lot is riding on how Democrats run Congress and until this week we have basically managed the last year without a flaw -- especially Nancy's selection of Rahm Emanuel to head up the DCCC and his extraordinary efforts to focus discipline, unity, and hard work. Nancy was my choice for Democratic leader, one that I am proud of and she offers tremendous promise for the new day that is dawning.
Nancy has expressed her support and admiration for Jack and it is clear that she will vote for him to be Democratic Leader. This poses an interesting challenge for the Democratic Caucus. It is not just what we value in leadership and the contrast between Steny and Jack, but is also about having a leadership team that is cohesive and that is comfortable and works well together.
The next 48 hours are going to be a significant test regardless of the outcome. Will Democrats be able to conduct a decision on leadership in a way that is constructive with a minimum of rancor? Will we get the pieces right for the team and be able to make sure that we emerge stronger rather than weaker?
Jack and Steny are going to be fine regardless of what happens. At a minimum each are going to play key roles in an Appropriations Committee that will be energized under the leadership of Dave Obey and key new members. They both will chair critical subcommittees that will deal with important spending priorities. They will both be very powerful voices in our caucus with a devoted following of people who are their friends, admirers, and supporters.
I'm more interested in this as a test for Democrats than for the leadership position itself. Will people have the ability to deal with the selection and then move on in a way that will be the most constructive for our Caucus? Will we find a way to mute and avoid the tendency in close, hard fought contest to make it personal and make it public? I may well be the only person in the caucus who is not trying to persuade people one way or another. Indeed, I may be the only one who is still thinking about my choice and what it represents.
This is the first of many difficult decisions that lie ahead in the next two years. In fact, compared to the consequences of other issues that will be coming down the road, this choice is one of the easiest, with fewer direct consequences. It is not to say that this will not affect some people in what happens to them internally in the House, because it will. But for most members, the hard decisions ahead are going to have more of a consequence on their political future, and most important, on the future of the country. I'm cautiously optimistic that this is a test that we will manage, but it is going to reveal a lot, not just to me, but to the world that is watching.