Tuesday, June 30, 2009

“You Got To Dance With the The One Who Brung You”

By Marc Korman.

A Congressman I once worked for represented a western district won by Bush 43 twice. On some environmental issues he had what I viewed as a moderate record. When the Republicans tried to amend the Endangered Species Act in 2005, I expected to have to work hard to convince my boss to stick with the majority of Democrats and the Sierra Club and vote no. After days of preparation, I went into his office to pitch a no vote. After a minute he interrupted me and said “You got to dance with the one who brung you,” indicating that he would not be voting for the Republican proposal. I thought of that moment last week watching Maryland’s newest Congressman, Frank Kratovil.

Congressman Kratovil represents the 1st Congressional District, which essentially lines the Chesapeake Bay and covers parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Harford on the western side and the entirety of the Eastern Shore. In 2008, Kratovil beat State Senator Andy Harris by less than 3,000 votes, out of over 350,000 votes cast. He is due for a tough reelection in 2010. Although his predecessor was a moderate Republican, the district leans far to the right in some areas. John McCain received 59% of the vote there according to the National Journal.

I heard Kratovil speaking last week to a group of Montgomery County Democrats, which I suspect was a nice break from the tornado of legislative activity in the House. As a member of the moderate to conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Kratovil is considered a swing vote on Obama Administration priorities such as healthcare reform and climate change legislation.

News reports last week from Capitol Hill gave glimpses into Kratovil’s thinking on the climate change legislation, which passed the House before they adjourned for a July 4th recess. Leaving the merits of the legislation aside, the bill is a political risk because of its complexity, far reach, and subject matter.

Kratovil started the week linked to the efforts of Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, who was seeking changes to the legislation to benefit the agriculture sector. Peterson is influential as a chairman and Blue Dog leader, but he has been a thorn in the side of the Democratic leadership side for years. For example, in the past he has refused to pay the contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expected of all incumbents.

When Peterson’s climate change demands were met by the sponsors of the legislation, reports indicated that Kratovil was still resisting a yes vote. But by Friday night, Kratovil was apparently comfortable enough to vote for the bill. Forty-four other Democrats voted against the legislation, while eight Republicans crossed over and voted for the landmark bill.

On another major domestic priority of Obama’s, healthcare, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Kratovil say he supported a public option, which would create a government backed competitor to private health insurance companies. Many moderate legislators have expressed concern with a public plan, but Kratovil embraced one openly.

That is not to say that Kratovil is an automatic yes vote for the House Democratic leadership. For example, Kratovil did not vote for the original House version of the stimulus. But Kratovil seems to have realized a few things in his short time in Congress. First, no one expects him to vote with the Democratic leadership in lock step. That would not serve his district, his political future, or, probably, his own views. Second, lots of what Obama is proposing is good for the 1st district, good for Maryland, good for the country, and good for Frank Kratovil. And third, sometimes, “you got to dance with the one who brung you.” For Frank Kratovil, that includes Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer, two members of the House Leadership who believed in and supported Kratovil when few other serious pols thought he had a chance.