I want to stipulate up front here that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Howie Klein of Down with Tyranny and firedoglake. Very few people work harder for progressive issues. But I am not real pleased with the decision he made, in conjunction with Crooks & Liars, and Digby, to get involved in the PA-03 congressional race, on the side of an independent candidate.
Pennsylvania’s third district is currently held by Phil English, a Republican that Progressive Punch ranks as tied for 268th least progressive member of Congress with Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01). That places him on the conservative end of the ‘moderate’ wing. Of course, we all know that the moderate wing has capitulated to the GOP leadership at every turn. English isn’t absolutely horrible (for a Republican), but it’d be nice to get him out of the Pennsylvania delegation…for sure.
The English campaign is rightfully worried; despite outspending his opponent by 5 to 1, he barely won with 53 percent.
During the ’06 campaign, Porter reached out to the netroots and became a friend of the Firedoglake community. They raised $5,630 dollars for his campaign through their Blue
Majority America ActBlue account.
So, when it came time to find a candidate to run in ’08, it isn’t too surprising that Porter reached out to Howie Klein. Klein explains:
A few months ago I was saddened to get a call from Steve telling me he had decided not to run again. He had good news however; he wanted to introduce me to a local Democratic councilman, Kyle Foust, who would be opposing English. He asked me to speak with Foust on the phone. I did– and wasn’t impressed.
If I was expecting someone as brilliant and resolute and courageous as Dr. Porter, I had set myself up for a let down. Here was just some hack politician, a Democratic rubber stamp wanna-be with no clear ideas about why he was running, about what was important in the public arena or about how to fix any of the problems he heard about (like Iraq). He didn’t have too many firm opinions but when it came to campaign finance reform he did: he’s against it.
I later told Steve that I wished Foust luck in defeating English but that we both realized on the phone that he was not a Blue America prospect. I may have missed it with Chris Carney but I can smell a Blue Dog in the making a mile away now. And so can Steve.
He went back and asked Foust some probing questions, thought it over and decided to jump back in the race. But not as a Democrat. He reregistered as an unaffiliated independent and that’s how he’ll appear on the ballot in 2008. A firm believer in accountability, Steve is a hawk on impeaching Bush and Cheney.
Actually, Klein had encouraged Dr. Porter to run in the primary, but not as an independent. Nonetheless, because Dr. Porter had established a good relationship with Klein and the Blue
Majority America communities (all based out of Los Angeles, CA) and because Kyle Foust appeared to be a Blue Dog in the making, they decided to stick with him and raise money for campaign.
There is only one problem. Kyle Foust isn’t the only Democrat running for the nomination to take on Phil English.
Mike Waltner is in the race.
Mike Waltner went to Yearly Kos.
Mike Waltner is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.
Mike Waltner is for single-payer health care.
Mike Waltner has this to say about Iraq.
In November 2006, Congress received a clear message from the American people to bring the Iraq War to an end. Mike will help lead the fight in Congress to end George Bush’s unjust war and bring our troops home immediately – and in a responsible way. He won’t be afraid to cast the
tough votes to ensure that our American soldiers are protected from George Bush’s failed Iraq policy.
Mike Waltner wants to close Guantanamo Bay and end torture and rendition.
Mike Waltner is solid on trade.
In fact, he’s progressive all down the line, except possibly for gun control. Given his district is in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, that’s not surprising. This is a major hunting constituency that really distrusts gun regulations.
According to Klein, Dr. Porter has been complimentary about Mike Waltner’s positions on the issues. His problem appears to be with the other candidate, Kyle Foust. Now Foust is a problem.
Looking at his issues page it’s obvious that he is not calling for single-payer health care and he wants to let
Baker-Hamilton determine our Iraq policy. That’s not good. And he appears to be the frontrunner for the nomination. So, why isn’t Dr. Porter endorsing Waltner and asking the 42% that voted for him last year to back the good progressive candidate?
Porter’s rationale for leaving the Dems is explained here:
“From the moment Pelosi took impeachment off the table, I knew there was no difference between the parties and that the Democrats would only posture and feign opposition which they knew would never amount to anything. In the end they gave George Bush absolutely everything he’s asked for… [It] is a calculated strategy to win greater gains in 2008… using the lives of our kids in Iraq– and the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians– for political purposes.”
Porter doesn’t distinguish between Democrats, he paints them all with same brush. If miraculously elected as an independent, Porter will caucus with the Democrats, just the same as Mike Waltner. He doesn’t have a rationale for why he will be significantly better on the issues than Waltner (and they will take office too late to impeach Bush or Cheney).
Not only that, but Pelosi took impeachment off the table months before Porter recommended Foust to Howie Klein. So this so-called epiphany of his (that there is no difference between the parties) is a piece of revisionist history. He is using this totally inaccurate and risible charge to retroactively justify his decision to run as an independent.
In 2004, Bush carried 53.1% of the vote in Pennsylvania’s third district. There is no way that the Democrats can win this seat if there are two progressives on the ticket against a seven-term Republican.
Now that we have a majority in the House, I can see the wisdom and strategy of running a progressive independent against a Blue Dog as a way of sending a message to the DCCC and the leadership. I don’t have a problem with that, even if it costs the Democrats a seat. But we are not there yet. First we have a primary. And we have a solid progressive running in that primary. He may be too progressive for the district, he may not. If he is, then Dr. Porter is as well. And if Dr. Porter could only garner 42% of the vote in ’06, running as a Democrat, then he has no chance running as an independent.
Rather than encourage Dr. Porter to run, we should be encouraging him to put all his weight and his ’06 organization behind Waltner. If Foust wins anyway, then Porter can carry forward the progressive banner as an independent. I’m not for supporting any Dem, no matter what. We have a majority and we can afford to throw away a race to make a point.
One last point: many people are rightly disappointed and frustrated with the performance of the Democratic congress. But that should not translate into an abandonment of the effort to reform the party. I think Mike Stark said it best.
Across the country, there are thousands of grassroots candidates, committeemen and party volunteers that pour millions of hours into building our party from the bottom up. Their efforts often go without thanks; in fact, in many “machine” areas, they are opposed by others in their own party.
Yet day in and day out, they toil.
…So the next time you decide to rail against Democrats, I ask that you use the appropriate qualifiers. “Al Wynn is an ass”… “There’s not a dimes worth of difference between Henry Cuellar and the Republicans he rolls around in bed with”… “The Blue Dogs have sold us out again”… “Democratic leadership is weak”… All of these are more than acceptable…
But when you use generic terms to criticize the whole party, you are, unfortunately, undermining the work of an awful lot of people you’d consider political friends and allies…
Before you lash out and turn against the Democrats, consider all the people working to change the party. They’re Democrats, too. And maybe people should do a little research about districts and candidates before they go supporting independent runs that will all but guarantee victory for entrenched Republicans.