Back in the closing years of the last century, I was regional director for the Young Democrats of America. A month or so into my term, an e-mail hit the YDA listserv (something I started, one of the few tangible accomplishments I made during my brief brush with leadership in that group) announcing that Oklahoma was leaving their region and joining mine. No one asked me, it just happened.
There was some dispute in their region about appointments to standing committees, and the Oklahomans felt jilted. They left and let it be known that they were going to force me to recind the appointments I had made to open up seats for them. I was a bit tweaked about this whole thing, so I sent an e-mail to Elizabeth Kennedy, a good friend who was Vice President of the YDA.
(Always good to mention Kennedy, she had an Alabama accent that could melt steel. Still makes me a bit wobbly remembering her.)
Kennedy gave me a call and said about the whole silly dust up, “How many Democrats will this elect?”
I was reluctant to write about the Seven Against Lopes crack up in the Democratic caucus. For one thing, there are still people who think that my brother somehow directs all that I write on here (and a few who still think he writes this stuff. Just so you all know, Tom is actually illiterate. It’s a shame my family has to bear.). The last thing I wanted to do was throw hexane on this little conflagration and have people think he had something to do with it. I’ve known many of the details about this for a week or so (many of them not from my brother or any other Democrat at all, but from a Republican staffer, oddly enough), but it didn’t seem to be prudent to write about it.
Well, now it has made Espresso Pundit and the Star (Gawd, scooped by Greg Patterson and Daniel Scarpinato, too bad my oven is electric). For those of you who don’t know the story, several members of the House Democratic caucus (Seven according to Patterson, Scarpinato only has six and doesn’t list Dave Bradley) are staging a sort of slow motion coup d’etat against minority leader Phil Lopes. The initial event that allegedly triggered this was dissatisfaction with some committee assignments, and several members chose to bypass Lopes and go to Speaker Jim Weiers. There was also a small blow up over seating arrangements. Always a critical issue, those seating arrangements.
The thing that disturbs me most about this incident is that it seems to be about nothing more than personality. Let’s say, for example, that Jack Brown led a rump group of conservative Democrats that tried to upend things. It would tick me off, and I would write about it, but at some level it would make sense. There seems to be no ideological bent here: Lopes’s leadership team includes Brown, and he counts among his allies the very liberal Kyrsten Sinema. If you can’t fit comfortably between Brown and Sinema, chances are, you ain’t a Democrat. The rebels are pretty spread out on the spectrum too. Given this, it is hard to see how this is about policy or ideology.
I don’t know what exactly this accomplishes to move the agenda of either the caucus or the rebel members. Patterson supposes over at his blog that the seven members have agreed not to help Lopes if he tries to override the speaker’s actions. No one that I have talked to has seen this letter that the seven allegedly signed, and I would hope such a thing is not true. If it is, it seems a high price for the Democratic agenda to pay just so a few folks can snag nice committee assignments.
I can understand making a move like this if it advances an issue that is important to you. For example, one of the people in this group is Linda Lopez. She’s had a bill that she’s tried to push over the last couple of sessions on right-to-die, an issue that is, understandably, close to her heart. For all of her struggling, the bill has had only one hearing in four tries to get it heard. She is introducing it again this session. Does it get a hearing this time, or was the only demand for the committee assignments? If this issue, very important to her, gets a hearing, than this may have been shrewd on her part. I have my doubts, and in the end, it may not look like they accomplished much with this bargain.
Patterson has a good read over on Espresso Pundit, and it is borne out by conversations that I have had with legislators. He posits that the Heptarchy may have overplayed their hand and if the leadership vote were held today, Phil Lopes would probably be even stronger than he was when he only beat Linda Lopez by a single vote last month. There is also some talk that a few of the members of this group are starting to regret starting this whole bruhaha.
What saddens me is that we Democrats made great gains in this last election and are only a few votes shy of power. The Democrats are in a position to assert themselves, as long as their first impulse isn’t to go after each other. This is not a very good way to show the public that we deserve to be in charge.