Congress's pragmatic newcomers
Capitol Hill freshmen promise practicality over party loyalty.
(Page 2 of 2)
The 73 Republicans in the class of '94 swept the GOP back into power in the House for the first time in 42 years on a pledge to end corruption in the Congress and reduce the size of government. Reversing the reforms of the Watergate babies, they rerouted power from committees to the speaker. But their refusal to compromise with the more moderate Senate sank much of their reform agenda.Skip to next paragraph
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Many prominent veterans of the '94 GOP class were defeated Nov. 7, including Reps. J. D. Hayworth of Arizona, John Hostettler of Indiana, Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota, Charles Bass of New Hampshire, and Sue Kelly of New York.
Reps. Robert Ney of Ohio and Mark Foley of Florida, also members of the class of '94, resigned over wrongdoing before the election. The class of 2006 also comes to Congress with what they see as a clear mandate from voters for change – but not necessarily along partisan lines.
For many Democrats elected in previously staunch Republican districts, that means paying closer attention to the mood of constituents than falling in lockstep with national Democratic Party leadership that tends to be more liberal.
That was the thinking behind incoming Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell's decision to attend a Blue Dog caucus last week.
"I met with the Blue Dogs. It's not what I am, but it fits my district" in Arizona, Mr. Mitchell says.
Nationally, the public wants to see bipartisanship in the next Congress, members say.
"The question is: How can we work together to do the right things for the people of America? Only through working together, crossing partisan lines – that's what my voters told me was important," said incoming Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, who upset Mr. Hostettler.
A local sheriff who has been pegged as an early star of the 110th Congress, Mr. Ellsworth opposes gun control and abortion rights and favors strict enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.
Congressional analysts say the pressure on the Democrats to line up with the party on key votes may prove overwhelming, even for those in traditionally conservative districts.
"Just as Democrats will try to find a few bills to make the Indiana-type moderates happy, those new freshman moderates are going to have a lot of incentive to follow the party line if they want their party to retain control in 2008," says Julian Zelizer, a historian at Boston University.
"Although some might say they don't care about staying in office, just as the 1994 freshmen said, they usually do. In a period of narrow margins, the handful of moderates will realize they have an incentive to vote with the party and obtain a victory rather than insisting on bills that would never pass their caucus and leave the Democrats with nothing to run on in 2008," he adds.
But at the same time, Democratic Party leaders are already signaling to freshmen that as important as their vote is their ability to hold onto their seats, many in traditionally Republican districts, in 2008.
"I've been told at least twice by [the Democratic] leadership since I've been here that 'representative' isn't only a title, it's a job description, and that I'd better represent my district," said Boyda, whose Kansas district gave President Bush 59 percent of the vote in 2004.
On the other side of the aisle, one of only 13 Republicans in the freshman class, incoming Rep. Mary Fallin (R) of Oklahoma says that Republicans "feel a mandate from the public that they want us to get things done."
"It's important to show people that we're Americans first, not just a party wanting to do something. If we don't earn back the confidence of voters ... all of us can be at risk," she added.