Views from Kansas: Democrats need new leadership

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Even before the next Congress convenes in January, area Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Sharice Davids may have to cast a wrenching vote that could divide the Democratic caucus in Washington:

Should they support Nancy Pelosi to be the next speaker of the House?

Cleaver, the Kansas City Democrat, has struggled with the question of whether to support Pelosi in the past. But he’s not struggling now. Late last week, he committed to Pelosi.

“You’ve got to have somebody to beat somebody,” he said about the anti-Pelosi faction in the House. “You guys don’t have anybody.”

Davids, the Democrat who beat incumbent Kevin Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District and won’t even be sworn in until January, is equivocating. But prior to the election she said, “I want new leadership across the board.”

“I ran for Congress in part because I think we need new leaders at the table,” she said in a statement to The Star last week. “I have not yet made a decision on who to support for speaker, but I do know I will only support someone who will address the needs of Kansans and who articulates a clear vision for how we can productively move forward in Washington.”

But Davids shouldn’t hesitate to oppose Pelosi and seek fresh leadership for a caucus in desperate need of it. In fact, if she winds up backing Pelosi, she could pay a price when she seeks another term in 2020, given her pre-election statements.

A key secret-ballot vote will come on Nov. 28. Already 17 Democrats have signed a letter opposing Pelosi, which suggests she may lack the 218 votes needed to become speaker.

Pelosi is 78. She’s already served as a party leader longer than any Republican or Democrat in the past 40 years. And she, of course, has served as a Republican target for what seems like forever.

No question she can be effective. One has to look no further than her work during the early years of President Barack Obama’s administration when, as the first female speaker, she ushered through a series of monumental bills. They included the $787 billion economic stimulus package, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms, a cap-and-trade climate change bill that died in the Senate and the Affordable Care Act.

The health care overhaul might never have become law without her. She also raises wheelbarrows of dollars for Democratic candidates in an era when money speaks all too loudly.

Put another way, Pelosi can back up her own self-assessment. “I am a master legislator,” she said. “I just love it. I consider myself a weaver, like I have a loom. And I bring all these different threads together.”

But as the years pass, Pelosi is also something else: an albatross around the neck of the Democratic Party. All parties need new leadership now and then, particularly in this era when ongoing frustration with Congress has voters placing an outsized premium on fresh faces.

Pelosi is convinced that she’s the exception to this rule, but the grim truth is she’s holding back her party. In the fall campaign, Republicans again featured her prominently in ads across the country as a way to motivate their base.

She brands her party as California, big-government liberalism at a time when Democrats are more nuanced than that. Yes, some of the onslaught of criticism can be attributed to sexism. Still, Pelosi’s been around a long time, and Democrats and the country would be well-served by a new approach and fresh thinking.

We hope our Democratic representatives recognize as much.

— Originally published in the Kansas City Star


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