“It took 26 years for San Francisco Democrats to finally take over the party in the House. But they did it.” So says longtime Capitol Hill GOP operative Lawrence Casey about the election last week of far-left Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California as House minority leader. Pelosi is the protégé of the late, radical Democratic Rep. Phil Burton, whose district she inherited. The pivotal moment in Burton’s career came in 1976, when he lost the race for House majority leader by one vote to Rep. Jim Wright (D.-Tex.), who went on, a decade later, to succeed the late Rep. Tip O’Neill (D.-Mass.) as speaker of the House. The outcome of that 1976 leadership race was a shock. Burton was a liberal icon and, as the late John Jacobs wrote in his much-praised biography of the Californian, A Rage for Justice, “Never before had anyone of the left combined Burton’s ideological commitment, love of combat, and operational ability to get things done.” But the Democrats turned Burton back, Jacobs concluded, because they were obviously nervous about giving such a confrontational leftist such a high profile in their party. Wright, on the other hand, had a relatively conservative record that included opposition to civil rights and support for the Vietnam War and the oil depletion allowance. But this time around, the Democrats have picked a confrontational leftist. On November 14, with only a handful of votes cast for moderate Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee, the House Democrats picked the far left Pelosi to succeed Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) as their leader. The daughter of late Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro, who also served in the House of Representatives, Pelosi has been involved in Democratic politics in San Francisco since moving to that city in the early 1960s as a young housewife and mother. With Burton’s backing, she became state party chairman and finance chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In a scene still described in San Francisco political circles, Pelosi got her congressional district in 1987 when an ailing Rep. Sala Burton, Phil’s widow and successor, gave Pelosi her blessings from a hospital bed. Rated a perfect 100% by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and an anemic 4% from the American Conservative Union, the 62-year-old Pelosi has been predictably liberal on virtually every major issue. She opposed the Bush tax cuts and, on the campaign trail this fall, called for their repeal. She fought for the Clinton Administration’s anti-business ergonomics rules, and against eliminating the death tax and any effort to decrease funding for the scandal-ridden National Endowment for the Arts. Pelosi even broke with Bill Clinton in 1996 when she joined about half the Democrats in the House to oppose eventual passage of the “tough love” welfare reform he signed into law. Pelosi truly epitomizes the term “San Francisco Democrat.” She backs abortion-on-demand, including partial-birth abortions. She opposes a ban on human cloning and a ban on Food and Drug Administration funding for the abortion-inducing drug RU-486. But she is anti-choice when it comes to education and health care, voting against both school vouchers and Medical Savings Accounts. She has voted against public display of the Ten Commandments and against a ban on the burning of the American Flag. As congresswoman for San Francisco’s heavily homosexual Castro District, Pelosi has long championed the agenda of the activist gay left. As the Almanac of American Politics has noted, “On AIDS funding, Pelosi has used her Appropriations [Committee] seat to get money for victims and wants access to new therapies and drugs without regard to ability to pay; she got AIDS spending increased even in the Republican Congress.” In September of last year, Pelosi backed an amendment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that would have permitted the use of local funds to force the Boy Scouts of America to reinstate two gay leaders and compensate them with $50,000 each. (The measure was rejected by a vote of 243 to 173.) On July 13, 2000, she joined ten other House Democrats in signing a letter to President Clinton urging him to resign as honorary head of the Boy Scouts of America lest his office be seen “as giving implicit approval to this self-proclaimed intolerant policy [of excluding gays].” At times, Pelosi’s pro-homosexual activities go beyond simply voting. Much as mentor Burton became the highest elected official to ride in Gay Pride parades in San Francisco in the 1970s (when then-Mayor and now Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein declined to do so), Pelosi regularly appears and speaks at high-profile homosexual events. On June 27 of this year, for example, she rose on the House floor “in recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride in San Francisco” to pay tribute to Officer Jon D. Cook, the first openly homosexual San Francisco policeman to lose his life in the line of duty. She commemorated Gay Pride Week on June 23, 1998, with a speech on the House floor calling on the Senate to confirm friend and avowed homosexual James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg, hailing Hormel as “a great American” and a “patriotic American.” The lone issue on which Pelosi sides with most conservatives is trade with Red China. She has long led opposition to Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with Beijing and she offered amendments aimed at conditioning PNTR on human rights reforms. But many pundits and local politicians attribute this stance less to any passion against Communist tyranny than to the fact that her district is home to a large and well-heeled Chinese-American community. Pelosi does not show the same concerns about human rights reforms in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. She supported the unsuccessful amendment pushed by Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.) to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. And, although last week she called on Democrats to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with President Bush on national security, the new House Democratic leader had only weeks ago voted against the resolution authorizing him to take action against Iraq. It is not hyperbole to label the election of Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader a historic turning point for the Democratic Party. Where they just barely avoided the characterization of “San Francisco Democrat” on their national banner in 1976, last week the Democrats in Congress heartily embraced it.
Nancy Pelosi, the new House Democratic leader, truly lives up to her reputation as a "San Francisco liberal."