New Lawmakers Vow to Renounce Partisanship

Article excerpt

The freshman Class of 2008 converged on Capitol Hill for orientation this week not just to learn the ways of Washington but also to try to change them.

Their ranks include lawyers, governors, mayors, and former congressional staff, as well as physicians, real estate developers, investment bankers, Internet entrepreneurs, teachers, community organizers, a cosmetics saleswoman, and a former prison guard.

What many have in common is a pledge to voters to renounce bitter partisanship and break the gridlock on Capitol Hill - pledges that, if honored, pose management issues for leadership on both sides of the aisle.

For example, incoming Rep. Bobby Bright (D) of Alabama, the outgoing mayor of Montgomery, opposes abortion rights and gun control and supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If elected, he said he would "put party politics in the back seat." He is backed by the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition.On the Republican side, Jason Chaffetz of Utah - one of only four Republicans to defeat a House Democrat in this campaign cycle - wants to wean his party off big-government conservatism, including rolling back President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind law.

With congressional approval ratings stuck in single digits, it's no surprise that newcomers on both sides of the aisle campaigned against Congress and its ways.

But the larger political calculus is driven by the fact that most congressional seats are no longer competitive, thanks to decades of high-tech, partisan redistricting and gerrymandering.

Moreover, the battles for the remaining competitive seats are fought out - often fiercely and at great expense - in the center.For the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal era, Democrats gained seats in back-to-back elections: that's 57 pickups in two election cycles.

With a handful of recounts pending, the head count for new members stands at 30 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the House, and six Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate. Three Senate seats and five House seats are not yet determined.

For Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the influx of more conservative Democrats has meant finding ways to accommodate views more conservative than the caucus. In the 110th Congress, she called these moderate or conservative Democrats her "majority makers."

She also adopted the Blue Dog calls for rules in the House requiring that offsets be found for tax cuts or new spending.

"We made it a point early on to recruit candidates who best reflected their district's values and priorities and who could win a general election," says Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the House Democrats.

"The path to victory in each district is different, and we recognized and respected that. That flexibility allowed us to expand the number of seats in play to a historic level and ultimately win at least 24 seats this cycle," he added. …