Politics

HUMAN EVENTS Exclusive: Blue Dog Blues

Conservatives rationalized on May 13 when Republicans lost their third consecutive special Congressional election, in the supposedly safe 1st District of Mississippi. After all, they said, the victorious Democratic candidate Travis Childers, sounded more conservative during the campaign than his losing Republican candidate. He was a county official, a good old boy who the voters figured would be an independent conservative vote in the House as one of the Blue Dog Democrats.

But once in Washington, he drank the Democratic leadership’s Kool Aid. In the first 13 House roll calls contested along partisan lines after Childers took his seat in Congress, he voted with the Democrats 12 times.

Childers fit right in with the Blue Dogs elected in 2006 to give Democrats control of the House after a dozen years of a Republican majority. They won office by campaigning as independent conservatives. But in the House starting in January 2007, they have voted the Democratic line — with no exceptions — more than 80 percent of the time.

The Blue Dogs are different in kind than the old “Redneck Caucus” or the “Boll Weevils” — genuinely conservative Democratic members of Congress from the South who constituted a virtual third party on Capitol Hill for half a century beginning in the mid -1930s. They collaborated so often with the Republicans in frustrating liberal initiatives, frequently proposals by a Democratic president, that the usual massive Congressional majorities were illusory.
 
But the South’s seats in both House and Senate once held by Boll Weevils are now mostly occupied by Republicans. The Blue Dogs come from all over the country, from districts generally conservative but not traditionally or firmly Republican. In 2006 when the political currents were running against the GOP, they could campaign as conservatives opposed to Republican corruption and hypocrisy and against knee-jerk liberalism. Their profile: hard-line on immigration and terrorism, highly critical of President Bush’s war policy, pro-gun and usually pro-life, contemptuous of Republican deficit spending.  They pledged they would not be beholden to Nancy Pelosi in Congress.
 
But as House members, the Blue Dogs from the Class of ’06 have followed the Pelosi line. In HUMAN EVENTS of April 18, 2007, I tracked 10 of them who consistently voted as Speaker Pelosi wants. A survey of their performances since then shows they have not changed. Most are usually dependable votes for the majority party on issues where the leadership cracks the party whip.
 
Such a vote came this year on the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, which Pelosi has made a test of her authority. The staunchest pro-U.S. leader in Latin America is Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe, who is fighting an insurrection backed by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Yet, my selected ‘06 Blue Dogs voted 9 to 1 against the trade agreement. Last year, nine voted for a time table on withdrawal of troops from Iraq, that would signal how and when the Americans were leaving (the 
  
The one dissenter on the Colombian free trade vote and the one absent Congressman on the Iraqi troop withdrawal was the same person: Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Tex.). Paradoxically, he is arguably the most liberal of the selected l0 Blue Dogs as reflected during five previous terms representing the Beaumont area. He was wiped out in the 2004 election following the Texas redistricting engineered by former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Lampson filed as a candidate in DeLay’s Houston-area district and campaigned as a moderate in this Republican territory.  Lampson was elected when DeLay was indicted by a politicized district attorney.
 
Now representing a district that is clearly too conservative for him and makes him the leading Democratic target in a bad year for Republicans, Lampson is the least dependable Blue Dog for Democratic leaders. Out of eight important roll calls, Lampson voted with his own party on only three issues — State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), opposition to FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) and the Democratic energy bill. He voted with the Republicans on four issues, including two tax increases, and was absent for the Iraq withdrawal roll call. The key to a Blue Dog’s voting pattern seems to be not his personal ideology but how safe his district is.
 

 

Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio) a millionaire undertaker, is avowedly pro-life and pro-gun and was considered a moderate conservative as a longtime Ohio state legislator. But in 2006 he comfortably carried his southeast Ohio district, which was formerly represented in Congress by Gov. Ted Strickland and looks safely Democratic. So, Wilson voted the party line on all eight issues, including the two tax increases. Party regularity again was linked to how safe the district is.
 
But that surely is not the case with the only other selected Blue Dog with a perfect Democratic record on the eight issues: Rep. Jason Altimire (R-Pa.). He is a former Congressional aide and health industry lobbyist, and there does not seem to be anything conservative about him. He apparently joined the Blue Dogs because he represents a swing district where former Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), whom he defeated in 2006, is trying again in 2008. 
 
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.), the popular former longtime mayor of Tempe, shocked Republicans in 2006 by upsetting the flamboyant Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) While he publicly has avowed independence, Mitchell voted straight Democratic on every issue except a tax increase.
 
Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), who defeated the scandal-tainted Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) in a Republican district, faces a tough Republican challenge from a new candidate this year. But that has not stopped him from voting with the Democrats on all of the eight issues except for the House version of the FISA bill that did not provide immunity for telephone companies.
 

 

Rep. Health Shuler (D-N.C.) has been one of the most closely watched Blue Dogs in Washington because he is well known in the capital as a failed first round draft choice for the Washington Redskins football team. While he gave the impression during his 2006 campaign that it would be hard to tell his vote from a Republicans, on these roll calls he sided with Republicans only on SCHIP and telecom immunity.
 
The Blue Dogs say remarkably little on the House floor. Representing shaky districts (except for Charlie Wilson), they don’t want to offer anything that will come back to bite them. However, Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) let her emotions get the best of her last year at a Congressional hearing on Iraq. When the respected retired Gen. Jack Keane testified that the surge is working, she walked out of the hearing and said: “There is only so much you can take.” After upsetting the world famous miler and five-term Congressman, Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), in 2006, she applied for membership with the Blue Dogs but has broken with Democrats only on FISA and energy out of the selected bills.
 
What is clear is that Blue Dogs are neither conservatives nor independents. They only campaign that way. They are hoping that in November they can ride through the current political ethos for at least another two years.

These are the votes on eight key issues over the last year by eight prominent Blue Dog Democrats. A “Yes” indicates a vote for the Democrats, a “No” against them.

 


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