A Tale of Two Speakers

What the Dickens is happening?  It must be open season on House Speakers.

On May 19, for the first time in three centuries, the speaker of the House of Commons (of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), resigned his post. Michael Martin was told to fall on his sword by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a few weeks after records of scandalous expense claims — made by of Members of Parliament from all parties — were leaked to The Daily Telegraph.  Incontrovertible proof in hand, the Telegraph printed the sordid details.

Outrage ensued.  The Queen scolded Brown during their weekly meeting. David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, went so far as to insist that any Tory who did not repay falsified expenses drawn on the public purse would be kicked out of the Party. The clamor reached a fever pitch when — on Monday’s live TV coverage of the Parliament session — Martin found himself facing down an angry sea of MPs. It made for compelling, albeit uncomfortable, viewing.

While Martin has been under fire, controversy has simultaneously been swirling around U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. This strange bit of political parallelism is the stuff of novels.  It is a tale about commoners and kings (or in this case a queen).  

Here are the two plots.

Two Different Backgrounds:

Michael Martin was born in Scotland in 1945, the son of an alcoholic merchant seaman and a school cleaner.  He grew up in a Glasgow tenement with four brothers and sisters. The toilet was outside.  He left school at 15 to apprentice as a sheet metal worker and joined the Labour Party at age 21.  After proving himself as a trade union organizer, Martin was elected to represent a Glasgow constituency in 1979.

Nancy D’Alesandro was born, in 1940, into a prominent family which — for many years — ran the Democrat political machine in Maryland. Her father, Tommy D’Alesandro, Jr., was a U.S. Congressman. He and Nancy’s brother each served terms as Mayor of Baltimore.   She attended a Catholic girl’s school and entered Trinity College, where she met her husband, Paul Pelosi. The newly weds moved to the San Francisco Bay area.

The Pelosi family currently has a net worth of nearly $19 million, earned through real estate, including a winery, stocks and other investments. Nancy Pelosi is the ninth wealthiest member of the House.  She holds the record for the most financial contributions to the campaigns of other Democrats because her own seat has been so secure.

Two Different Paths to Power

Not having his skids greased by being from the upper class, Michael Martin MP climbed up the ranks of the Labour Party by chairing a host of committees for little glory. U.K. tradition calls for the Speakership to alternate from one party to the other whenever the post is open. Martin maneuvered himself into the opening despite his predecessor being a Labourite.  He became Speaker of the House of Commons in October 2000.  

Pelosi became involved in San Francisco politics as a high society lady, working her way up to become California State Party Chairwoman by 1977. A decade later, when the last of her five children was a high school senior, she decided to run for office.  

After her election to the House in 1987, Pelosi also did her fair share of committee work, but these were not without glory. She served on both the Appropriations and — more importantly — the House Intelligence Committee, eventually become the ranking Democrat.  She remained on that Committee until becoming the Minority Leader of the House.  She was elected Speaker by the House Democrat majority in January 2007.

Two Different Sets of Responsibilities

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives serves as the presiding officer of that body. The Commons Speakers is also supposed to keep the house in order.

Pelosi is second in the line of Presidential succession after the vice president. No such opportunity for advancement exists in the House of Commons, although Martin regularly interacted with the Queen on pertinent matters.

Congresswoman Pelosi is allowed to be a partisan advocate for the Democrat Party while being House Speaker. The British Speaker is supposed to be impartial and independent of government, but Martin also retained his seat as a Labour MP.  

The Speaker of the Commons is referred to as First Commoner of the Land. Try calling Nancy Pelosi “common.”

Two Different Reputations

Michael Martin has a reputation for having a chip on his shoulder. He is said to have charged the taxpayers for postage when he mailed his dirty underwear home — to Scotland — for his wife to launder.

A senior Democrat once described Pelosi as “our Maggie Thatcher,” which must have made her cringe. Others call her a “diva.”  Her staff got bad press for treating the Air Force as Pelosi’s personal airline service, berating military officials in several emails. This prompted Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton to remark, “Her office seems unconcerned about wasting taxpayer money with last minute travel cancellations and other demands.”

Two Different Controversies

Michael Martin actively attempted to block Freedom of Information requests which would have exposed the horrific billings, charged to the public coffers, by members of Parliament and of the government.

Nancy Pelosi has issued five different sets of explanations about what she knew or didn’t know about water boarding and other interrogation techniques.  She has since accused the CIA of lying to her.

Two Different Outcomes?

Michael Martin will step down on June 21.   He is due a pension of £1.4million and is supposed to receive a peerage. He’ll get the pension, but the title issue is being hotly debated. He did not want to go, especially in disgrace. He still denies any direct ethical responsibility for the culture of corruption he presided over.

In an unprecedented action, Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, has called for Speaker Pelosi to resign.  So far, she has avoided being pilloried by an angry House on C-SPAN, but the current CIA chief, long-time Democrat partisan Leon Panetta, has all but called her a liar. Insiders say he never would have done that without first running it up Rahm Emanuel’s flagpole. There are rumblings that the long knives in the White House and on Capitol Hill are out for her.

The question is: Will Nancy Pelosi be forced to step down from her position?  (Let’s not even try to calculate her pension).  In addition to those testy intelligence briefings, as a part of the Obama administration, Pelosi is also open to scrutiny as regards the out of control federal budget.  The voters of California just sent a big warning shot across the bow over government extravagance and waste. Will Americans rise up in righteous indignation the way the British have over the Expenses Scandal in Parliament — threatening to vote out everyone on the guilty list?  Can Nancy Pelosi still find her moral voice or will she be disgraced?  Is her season over?  Therein hangs the tale.