Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nancy Pelosi and the House Majority Leader.

Nancy Pelosi, new Speaker of the House, has tipped her hand by offcially endorsing Rep. John Murtha (PA- 12th District) for House Majority Leader. Pelosi faces the tough task of integrating 40 incoming freshmen into the existing political structure. She must consider the wide array of platforms that brought these candidates victory in an election that saw many Independents (and some moderate Republicans) vote Democratic. Murtha's competition is Steny Hoyer (MD-5th District), the current House Democratic Whip.

Murtha, a native of West Virginia, grew up in Westmoreland County, PA. He attended Washington and Jefferson College, Pitt and IUP, and served as a Marine drill instructor at Parris Island. He volunteered for service in the Vietnam War, and received numerous decorations for his performance. In 1974, he was elected to the House of Representatives, and has served there ever since. His district includes Johnstown and a substantial portion of the Pittsburgh suburbs. He is generally regarded as a social conservative- he opposes abortion, gun control, and campaign reform. He teamed up with disgraced Republican "Duke" Cunningham in proposing a flag-burning Amendment. However he is pro-labor and has opposed NAFTA, Bush's tax and social security plans, and the Federal Marriage Amendment.

As chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Defense (1991 to 1995) and its ranking Democrat, he has garnered a reputation of corruption- steering contracts to a company that employed his brother. Murtha also ran afoul of proper ethics when he got embroiled in the Abscam FBI investigation. This was a bureau sting that involved agents posing as Arab Shieks looking for asylum in return for payola. Evidently Murtha explained to an undercover agent that he wasn't interested in a bribe at the time, but might be in the future.

Some speculate that Pelosi's support for Murtha is a reward for his shifting stance on the Iraqi War. He initially supported the effort, but in November, 2005 he made a very public disavowal of his former position. He called for a redeployment of American troops, and lent credibility to the anti-war movement then forming in Congress. The subsequent election shows that Iraq was a major factor in determining electoral preference. Many relatively conservative Democrats defeated incumbents in traditionally Republican states, and Murtha seems a natural choice to effectively bring them into the process. But his history of corruption might thwart his plans.

Meanwhile, Steny Hoyer is convinced that he will be chosen to represent his party. He has claimed that at least 21 of the incoming class of Representatives will back his nomination. His supporters claim that an additional five will vote in his favor. This is a good foundation to build with, in his quest to become majority leader. He is cited as a favorite among the more progressive wing of his party. He has worked for the rights of federal employees, disenfranchised voters and people with disabilities. Additionally he is outspoken about his support for public education, human and civil rights.

Hoyer is a native of New York City, but was raised in Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland and holds a law degree from Georgetown University. He has served the
5th district of Congress since 1981. In 2002 he was chosen as the House Whip, making him the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Legislature. He was also the chief candidate recruiter for House Democrats from1995-2000.

Note: As I was completing this entry, Hoyer was selected by a vote of 149-86. I don't know whether this is a revocation of Murtha, based upon his shady past... or whether the coming House Majority plans to pursue a more progressive agenda. I wonder what this means as far as a crystallization of the Democratic agenda regarding Iraq. Perhaps this move had less to do with progressive politics, and more to do with a possible bipartisan effort to conclude the war. Maybe the Democrats are guessing that Republicans would refuse to work with Murtha because of his previous calls for a near-immediate withdrawal.


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