Ben Buchwalter


Help Wanted: Vision, Experience, Clout
November 23, 2008, 5:01 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Congress | Tags: , , ,


The new Obama administration has promised to change Washington. Whether they succeed in changing the bitter partisanship and menial bureaucracy, one thing is sure: the group of Senate Democrats will change a great deal.

For the past four years, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have been three of the most prominent Democratic voices and critics of George W. Bush in Washington. They have all stood out for different reasons.

Obama, the charismatic and sole African American in the Senate has been lauded since his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention as the Democratic Party’s next Visionary. Joe Biden has been a Senator from Delaware for 36 years. He, along with Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts (though Biden to a lesser extent) is one of the party’s most consistent progressive voices. Holding stints as chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, he is one of his Party’s most experienced leaders. Hillary Clinton has been an outstanding, though moderate, Senator from New York for the past six years. And as the former First Lady, Clinton has more clout in Washington than most of her Democratic colleagues.

So as Obama, Biden and Clinton begin their new roles as President, Vice President, and Secretary of State (rumored), Senate Democrats will begin the search for replacements for these candidates. And that is a difficult undertaking.

Barack Obama, Illinois
Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D) must choose Obama’s replacement. And since Obama has already resigned his seat, the pressure has begun for the second-term governor.

There are a lot of factors to consider. First, as holds true for all of these replacements, Governors must choose a candidate who would be a strong contender for reelection in only 2 years – all three Senate replacements will face Republican challengers in 2010. So Blagojevich should not choose a political neophyte who could appear vulnerable to the Illinois GOP.

There are also demographic concerns. Obama, as the Senate’s only African American, occupies an essential seat. His election as President, a momentous occasion for African Americans, once again made the U.S. Senate 0% black. So should Blagojevich appoint an African-American replacement? If he chooses to, then Jesse Jackson Jr. would be the obvious choice. Jackson Jr. represents an urban area including Chicago’s south suburbs in the Illinois House of Representatives. Though he holds high favorability ratings, it is reported that Blagojevich and Chicago’s six-term mayor Richard M. Daley do not like him.

I’m hoping that Jackson gets appointed because, though it is not the only or most important qualification, I think it is imperative that we maintain an African American presence in the Senate. Even if that presence is negligible, it sets a foundation that will undoubtedly strengthen before long.

The other leading contender for Obama’s seat is Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and Illinois Veterans Affairs Director who is a close Obama ally. Duckworth is an Asian American and would add an invaluable minority and female voice to the Senate. From what I can tell, both Jackson Jr. and Duckworth are incredibly worthy of Obama’s seat.

Joe Biden, Delaware
Joe Biden has held this seat for 36 years, since he was 30 years old. The only way that Biden could have lost this seat was to give it up himself or by some tragedy. But with Biden’s election as Vice President, current governor Ruth Ann Minner or Governor-elect Jack Markell – both Democrats – will be charged with filling this legendary seat.

The immediate front-runner was Biden’s son Beau, the state’s current Attorney General. But Beau Biden has recently said that he would not accept the position if appointed because he must fulfill his commitment to a yearlong tour in Iraq.

So likely choices are the state’s Lieutenant Governor John Carney, Secretary of State Harriet Windsor, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron Steele. As these candidates are relatively unknown, I’d expect the Delware GOP to mount an all-out offensive for this seat in 2010.

Hillary Clinton, New York
Keep in mind, Clinton has not yet formally accepted Barack’s nomination for Secretary of State. And that nomination has not yet been formally given. This is also interesting because if she does not accept the nomination, she could probably hold this Senate seat for life. But being a Clinton means you seek the highest position possible when it is offered. And service is not an option. I think that Hillary will definitely accept both out of ambition and out of duty.

New York Governor David Patterson will choose her replacement if she accepts the nomination. There are anywhere between 10-20 possible selections for this seat. Patterson has vowed that he would not appoint himself, as he hopes to seek re-election for Governor in 2010.

The leading contender is Andrew Cuomo, the New York Attorney General. In a nearly worthless poll, 43% of New Yorkers said that they would prefer Mr. Cuomo. 42% were unsure, and the remainder – 15% – were split between state reps Nydia M. Velázquez, Steve Israel, Nita M. Lowey and Gregory W. Meeks. Update: Chris Cilliza of Washington Post lists the probabilities of each potential NY candidate.

This is the seat that I am most excited to see filled because the list of potential Clinton replacements is incredibly diverse, including women, African Americans, Latino Americans, and of course, white men. Patterson could go with the safe, and likely smart choice, Andrew Cuomo, or a risky and dynamic unknown future Senator.

The Power of Vision
By virtue of filling powerful senate seats with new appointments, experience and clout is difficult to replicate. But vision can certainly be reintroduced. Remember, Barack Obama was elected to the Senate only four years ago. And he has already become one of the greatest American visionaries of the past half-century.

So I hope that Governors Blagojevich (IL), Minner (DE) and Patterson (NY) will appoint exciting candidates that will bring powerful visions to the Senate. Such vision could have three results. 1.) Vision can inspire a massive movement; 2.) Vision can turn into steady and effective governance, and therefore translate to experience; and 3.) a powerful Vision can create the clout needed to usher in a new post-partisan era in Washington.

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