Gizzi on Politics: Dec. 17-21

McCrery Makes 18
October 31: “I think you have to include Jim McCrery on the list—and that’s going to set off a fight for ranking on Ways and Means.” So said the Republican U.S. House member I was dining with at Washington’s D.C. Coast Restaurant, as we engaged what has increasingly become a popular game among political “junkies” these days: Guessing which Republican U.S. representative will be the next to announce his retirement.

In this case, my dinner companion proved to be a prophet. Last week, less than a month after that conversation, Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, ranking Republican on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, became the 18th Republican House member to announce he will not seek re-election in ’08. At 58 and after 20 years in Congress, McCrery has had enough.

When McCrery first won the Shreveport-based 4th District in a special election in April 1988, it was national news: Democratic Rep. Buddy Roemer had resigned from the House to become governor and McCrery, a onetime Roemer staffer, ran as a Republican and put the district in GOP hands by a slim 51%-to-49% margin. Following the 1990 census, redistricting put McCrery in the same district as conservative Democratic Rep. (1976-92) Jerry Huckaby. With their combined district heavily Republican, McCrery topped the initial race and then won the run-off over Huckaby 63% to 37%. Since then, he has had no trouble winning re-election.

In contrast to the hotly fought special election in which McCrery first won the district in a historic gain for the GOP, the odds now strongly favor a conservative in the mold of McCrery (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) to succeed him. Attorney Jerry Jones, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Shreveport, and Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator are both mentioned as GOP prospects. Both attended McCrery’s retirement announcement at the Silver Lake Ballroom in downtown Shreveport. Another Republican prospect is Richard Hunt, McCrery’s onetime chief of staff.

That the lone, well-known Democrat now being mentioned for the 4th District seat is the same candidate defeated by McCrery in 1988 speaks volumes about the condition of the Democratic Party in the Pelican State. State Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who lost both the special election and subsequent general election in’88 (and last year was a gubernatorial also-ran in the contest won by Republican Bobby Jindal), is now considering a bid for the open 4th District.

Dingell, Anuzis United 

At first, the thought of seeing Michigan Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis and Debbie Dingell, the Water Wonderland’s Democratic National Committeewoman, sitting down together is mind-boggling. Self-styled “Kemp-Gingrich Republican” Anuzis is a no-holds-barred conservative, and Dingell, wife of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D.-Mich.) is one of the most accomplished Democratic Party fund-raisers nationwide. 

But Anuzis and Dingell did come together last week. The two political powerhouses have come up with a new plan for delegate selection nationwide by both major parties in 2012. To avoid the rush toward front-loaded state contests in the nomination process, the Anuzis-Dingell plan creates a lottery that would give all states a crack at holding the first primary, convention or caucus in the nation in four years. Under the plan, a rotating system of regional contests in each state would follow. 

“We’d start with a straight-up lottery 14 months before the general election [in 2012],” Anuzis told me, as he arrived in Washington last week to spell out his plan to reporters and to the chairman of the Republican National Committee’s Rules Committee, David Norcross of New Jersey. “This would give all states—except the state that went first in the previous election cycle—a chance at holding the first [primary or convention].” 

Under the rotating lottery, six geographic regions would be laid out. States within those regions would then draw straws in the lottery for particular dates in which to hold their nomination mechanism (Anuzis emphasized that the decision to opt for a primary or convention or caucus would be up to individual state parties) within a period on the calendar reserved for the particular region. 

Anuzis admitted that the plan that he and Dingell are pushing follows the same regions and rotations set out under legislation that Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin is pushing to create a national primary system.  But, in contrast to Levin’s measure, the Anuzis-Dingell plan would be worked out solely under party rules rather than mandated by federal law. 
“Our plan differs from others in that we are talking about spreading out the nomination procedure,” Anuzis said, noting that the “Delaware Plan that other RNC members are pushing gives small states advantages.”  The Anuzis-Dingell plan gives no advantages to anyone, because every state takes an equal chance under a lottery, he added.