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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Voters Show Little Hesitancy to Toss Political Leaders Out

December 29, 2009

It’s amazing to see so many public officials continue to lose their way in Washington. One would think the historical lessons learned would be obvious - but time after time Congressional leaders go their own way - and against the will of the voting public.

The latest episode is health care reform. Clearly the American people are not in favor of what Congress is doing - despite the fact they want to see the system reformed. Yet Congressional leaders continue to force the issue and make back room deals just to get something passed.

This could lead to the defeat of some big name members of Congress in the 2010 elections and most vulnerable are those who aggressively pushed a health care plan voters don’t seem to want.

History tells us that voters won’t hesitate to oust Congressional leaders if they are convinced it’s the only way to get their attention.

Former Washington State Congressman Tom Foley served in Congress for 30 years and was the 57th Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995. He was arguably the most powerful man in Washington at one time and was third in the line of succession to be President of the United States.

Yet Speaker Foley learned that voters aren’t impressed with political titles - nor are they enamored with the argument that a powerful seat in Congress can bring home the goodies for the people - if they won’t listen to their basic concerns.

In the 1994 election cycle Speaker Foley opposed grassroots efforts to impose term limits on the state’s elected officials. Despite the approval of a term limit ballot initiative by the voters he brought a legal suit calling the measure unconstitutional.

While Foley won the lawsuit - he lost his congressional seat and the Speakership to a relatively unknown challenger because voters saw him as acting arrogantly and being out-of-touch with their wishes.

In 2004 Democrat Senate Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota had a reputation for being politically partisan - and an obstructionist - to popular policies during the first term of President George W. Bush.

South Dakota voters didn’t like Daschle’s partisanship and were especially annoyed with his soft support for the troops during the Iraq War. His challenger was former Congressman Jim Thune - who accused Daschle of "emboldening the enemy" with his skepticism of the Iraq War.

Voters agreed and tossed Daschle out of office - thus he became the first sitting U.S. Senate Leader to be rejected by voters since 1952.

Two current Congressional Leaders who are overly partisan are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

While Speaker Pelosi will not lose her Congressional seat in the 2010 elections - she is a major liability for Democratic candidates and her partisanship could cost Democrats the House majority they now enjoy.

Senator Reid is another story. He is headed for almost certain defeat in his home state of Nevada - primarily because of his partisan and ill-mannered approach as Senate Leader. State polls show him trailing badly as he continues to blunder his way with health care reform.

History tells us that some elected officials just aren’t up to demands and temperament that political leadership roles require - but voters have a way of sorting it out - and have shown little hesitancy (or patience) in making mid-course corrections when necessary.

Early indications are that 2010 will be that type of readjustment year for Congressional Democrats.