Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Minnick's Balancing Act

Over the weekend, Sisyphus of 43rd State Blues made some very good points regarding Congressman Walt Minnick and his dwindling Democratic base. Hopefully Sisyphus won't mind that I quote him extensively here, his points are more than worth repeating and succinctly illustrate the predicament Walt Minnick has created when it comes to his base.

Mark Johnson has written a superb piece on this topic that several of us keeping tabs on Minnick have linked to. Perhaps the most telling component of Johnson's post, as has also been pointed out, isn't actually anything written within the piece, but the connection between Johnson and Minnick's former campaign manager Isaac Squyres. In fact, Johnson isn't only drawing on his unique vantage point as a colleague of Minnick's former staffer, but quite possibly also as a colleague of former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus. As you may remember, Andrus had supported and endorsed Larry Grant (who nearly beat Bill Sali in 2006) for the 2008 1st congressional district race until his old friend Walt Minnick threw his hat into the ring. Johnson, Squyres and Andrus are all part of Gallatin Public Affairs.

If Minnick does in fact have a problem with his base, as many of us believe he does, surely the aforementioned individuals are very much aware of it--the question then becomes, what are they telling Minnick to do about it?

Has Walt Minnick lost his base? And if so, when did he lose it? Was it when he voted against the then extremely popular Obama and his stimulus package? Was it when he voted against climate control legislation, widely supported by the Democratic Party? How about when Minnick voted in committee against the Consumer Financial Protection Agency? Or will Minnick's vote against health care reform be the final straw for Minnick's base?

If, for argument's sake, Minnick hasn't completely deserted his base already, Sisyphus makes a great point about what health care reform could be for the embattled congressman, the embattled congressman who as recently as last night in a telephone town hall stated he votes as he believes is right for Idahoans, not along party lines, and he has not been "ostracized" for doing so (apparently those of us who have expressed our frustration with Minnick's voting record have not been taken seriously by the congressman). Sisyphus writes:
"Walt just needs one populist issue to champion. HCR with a robust public option seems the one to me. Its popular everywhere its polled. If the highest profile Democrat in the state champions an essential and popular element in the Democratic agenda, he'll provide the necessary leadership in a state party starved for it. Instead, judging by his press releases, he's embarrassed by Democrats. I know it runs against his ideological grain so he can pick another issue. But he better work some pragmatic political savvy into his game plan or he will truly be endangered no matter how much money he raises."
Not only is Minnick embarrassed by Democrats, he publicly has called progressive Democrats in north-end Boise "crazy" when meeting with teabaggers, and in the past, during that portion of his career in the private sector when he was so successful, had harsh words for environmental activists and those involved in the green movement. Where Sisyphus mentions a state party "starved" for leadership, he could have easily mentioned the recent interview of Minnick by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News where Minnick expresses very little interest in holding onto his congressional seat for himself or the party that sent him to Congress. Additionally, it is both possible and plausible that Minnick could raise the most money of any candidate for the 1st CD seat in 2010 and still lose the race.

One particular mode of thinking that Minnick seems to subscribe to is that in 2008 the moderates and conservatives who were sick of Bill Sali or impressed with Minnick's independence put him over the top and sent him to D.C. It may very well be that moderates helped put Minnick over the top, but it was the larger number of progressively minded voters who came out to support Obama that sent Minnick to D.C. and they more than likely will not be around in 2010 to support Minnick. Not only will Minnick have lost a chunk of voters who turned out in 2008 because of Obama, he will lose both a handful of moderates who will surely find some strength in the Republican candidate and a handful of progressives who will vote for anyone else, even a write-in. The progressives Minnick will lose won't vote for the Republican, but they will be anxiously watching the race hoping that a real progressive, a Democrat in name and ideology, primaries Walt Minnick.

Sisyphus points out in his latest post that Walt Minnick may have been able to get behind a Baucus-like health care reform bill, but that Minnick needs to be cautious of the hit that Baucus took in his home state for supporting such a giveaway to the insurance industry. The problem is, Minnick is pro-business to the point that he favors enterprise over consumers, even if those consumers are his constituents. Something also tells me Minnick would have no qualms when it came to voting against a bill that hurt business in any way, even if it meant denying uninsured Idahoans the desperately needed opportunity to access affordable, effective health care.

If Congressman Minnick is at all concerned with his base problem, a problem that has now been pointed out by the MountainGoat Report, Johnson Post, Ridenbaugh Press, 43rd State Blues, IdaBlue, and this blog, he better start planning how he'll either appease the base or be forgiven by it, and no, that doesn't mean lining up conciliatory votes like the one he cast against the Stupak amendment.

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