Friday, October 31, 2008

FL-18: Wasserman Shultz in public endorsement of Annette Taddeo for US House; Closing difficult chapter?

l-r: Annette Taddeo, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Raul Martinez, Kendrick Meek, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Garcia.

This was a long time coming, and so quite choreographed. A rising star among Democratic congresswomen, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida District 20, stood on a stage in Little Havana on Oct. 23 and publicly endorsed the candidacy of the Democratic challenger to one of Wasserman Shultz’ friends in the House.

This is an observation and supposition I’m making without having interviewed her or knowing all the influences that brought her to this new point. I hope it means that she’s decided that Annette Taddeo, a successful businesswoman making her first foray into elective politics, is going to defeat the 19-year veteran, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in District 18.

District 18 is where I live. I campaign some for Taddeo, whose half-Colombian, half-American background is perfect for this district that spans from Key West in the Florida Keys to Miami Beach and a good bulge of Little Havana and downtown Miami on the mainland. The district is majority Hispanic but not quite as Cuban as before, so Ros-Lehtinen, who’s Cuban American, is fighting hard with a mass of TV ads that fail to mention her links to neo-con misleaders and play up her “service” to the district.

As I try to persuade some brilliantly intelligent people to vote for Taddeo, they often reveal themselves as having been conned by Ros-Lehtinen’s supposed “service.” They ignore or are unaware of her repeated votes for the Iraq war, for torture, against the expansion of children’s health insurance. Hardly anyone seems aware of her hardline position on Iran, and they profess to admire her ability to get the Miami River dredged. (Big deal – some say it’s the shortest river in the USA, at 4 miles. Though it certainly needed dredging. Took forever. Anyway…) Once in a while they can change their minds after hearing her voting record. More have been swayed by her saccharine manner, and if they go to her office in Washington, they get such a nice cup of coffee.

It’s disgusting what dupes we are. How so many of us agree to be bribed by federal dollars. How we vote against our interests. I know, this behavior has been analyzed to hell and gone, and Americans are well established as having a tendency to let their vote be swayed by vague feelings of patriotism or by which candidate presents as a good social pal. Not that we’d ever get close to the snob. But we’ll take our emotional leaning as somehow related to attaining the American Dream, and we throw away our chance to vote for someone who has a solid and intelligent view of our situation. Well, I’m thinking of good old wooden Al Gore there, but he’s not a very good example, since he really won.

Let’s get back to what’s publicly known about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her many months of reluctance to get on the side of Annette Taddeo and her two fellow strong Democratic challengers, Joe Garcia against Mario Diaz-Balart in District 25 (the outer suburbs and the Everglades) and Raul Martinez against Lincoln Diaz-Balart in District 21 (inner suburbs of Miami).

This came into the public eye in March, started by the Miami Herald’s featuring it on the front page. This blog picked that up pretty quickly (first post on March 9) and the story ran repeatedly on Daily Kos and elsewhere in the blogosphere. Wasserman Schultz was regularly creamed for not using her position of influence in the DCCC – Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – to help the Democrats challenging in her neighboring districts.

At one point I was quietly happy about it, because it got Taddeo, Garcia and Martinez much more publicity locally and nationally than the little-known challengers had two years earlier. I know that too well, as I was nominal campaign manager for Dave Patlak, who didn’t quite get 40 percent against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2006 midterm election. We made her spend over $1 million – so there was some satisfaction for that.

What was Wasserman Schultz’ justification this year? Best guess was some collegial loyalty among fellow members of the U.S. House. They were all in the business of promoting federal bucks for South Florida and had to act together. There may have been some socializing. She told a skeptical audience once that it was a difficult balance. Not convincing. Many of us walked out because she came down on the wrong side of that teeter-totter. A report from March 21 at this link.

This affair caused me to think a lot about our political predicament. And it’s not just South Florida. This is all over our beloved country: the invulnerable incumbent. Their districts are so gerrymandered that they worry little about re-election. Wasserman Schultz and her Democratic colleague, Kendrick Meek of District 17, do not even get Republican opponents. Their districts are 70-percent safe Democratic.

They don’t benefit from the American tonic of competition. (Remedy: there’s a petition circulating to amend the Florida state constitution to ban political considerations in laying new district boundaries. This must be a priority after this election.)

If the two Democrats are invulnerable, the three Republican incumbents have less of a built-in advantage nowadays, though they started out with more solidly Republican districts. Demographic changes have put them in danger, and their three challengers, with strong campaign staffs and decent financing, are evidence that all three Republicans are seen as vulnerable, like their fellows most everywhere in the last months of George W. Bush.

Yet it still took forever for Wasserman Schultz to be more open in backing first Martinez, then Garcia and finally Taddeo. She wasted a lot of time being unnecessarily tenacious in backing Hillary Clinton. Then she spoke in favor of Taddeo at a meeting of Florida delegates at the Denver convention, where she somehow also cadged a slot to second Barack Obama’s nomination. Now it’s the last lap before election day, early voting is already under way, and finally Wasserman Schultz is in public at home in Florida before the TV cameras. And not alone.

Before I name her companions, here’s the quote:

“We need to make sure that we have leaders in the Congress who will stand up and be your voice. To make sure that the middle class ... that they have members of Congress who are in Washington fighting for them. And these three candidates, Raul Martinez, Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo, are the people that we need to elect so that we can make sure that they do that…

“This is the most important election of our lives. We are at a turning point in the United States of America. The wealthy have had their leaders in Washington. The wealthy have been taken care of for a long time. It is time to elect these three candidates to Congress so that we can have a voice for people who have not had one for a very long time.”

You can see from her words that all three Democratic challengers were in the room with her, Annette Taddeo, Raul Martinez and Joe Garcia, along with Rep. Kendrick Meek. The star in the room was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who for months has been trooping to South Florida doing fund-raisers for Garcia and Martinez. This was her first for Taddeo, I believe, and she also did fundraisers for Garcia and Martinez during a busy day.

Taddeo stood beside Wasserman Schultz and served as interpreter for the largely Cuban audience in the Little Havana Center for Activities and Nutrition, a senior center. Joe Garcia handled interpretation duty for Nancy Pelosi, who gave ringing endorsements of all three Democratic challengers, touting Taddeo’s strong business background, Garcia’s work in community organizing and Martinez for his long public service as mayor of Hialeah.

It’s time to say Thank You, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz. I fervently hope you’re right in guessing that Annette Taddeo is going to win.

One last question, though. Those ads that the DCCC is running on TV here … the ones that criticize the Diaz-Balart brothers for their rotten votes in Congress. Why don’t they also mention Ileana Ros-Lehtinen? After all, she voted the same way as the rubber-stamp brothers. The ads run in the very same TV market that serves potential voters for Annette Taddeo. You’re a big wheel in the DCCC. Why, O why, don’t the ads also mention the third rubber-stamper, and maybe give your fellow Democrat a little boost? Why?