Thursday, February 19, 2009

Populist Caucus As New Progressives?

Last week, Representative Bruce Braley announced the formation of a fourth Democratic ideological caucus in the House: the Populist caucus. The Huffington Post produced a list of twenty of their founding members:

Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-NY); Pete DeFazio (D-OR); Betty Sutton (D-OH); Leonard Boswell (D-IA); Steve Cohen (D-TN); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Keith Ellison (D-MN); Bob Filner (D-CA); Phil Hare (D-IL); Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Hank Johnson (D-GA); Steve Kagan (D-WI); David Loebsack (D-IA); Eric Massa (D-NY); Linda Sanchez (D-CA); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); Peter Welch (D-VT); and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

While it is something of a mixed bag, take a look at Populist caucus membership in the other Democratic ideological caucuses:

Blue Dogs and New Democrats (1): Arcuri (what joiner Arcuri is!)
Blue Dogs only (1): Boswell
New Democrats only (2): Braley, Courtney
Progressives only (11): Cohen, DeFazio, Ellison, Filner, Hare, Hirono, Johnson, Loebsack, Sanchez, Schakowsky, Welch
No previous alignment: (5): Kagen, Massa, Shea-Porter, Sutton, Yarmouth

Clearly, there is a strong tendency toward the Progressive caucus among the Populists, even though they were organized by a New Democrat. Further, Progressive punch puts the median lifetime score on "crucial votes" for this group at 55.5 of 256 (between Courtney at 54 and Loebsack at 57) in the Democratic caucus, placing it decidedly in the left-wing of the party.

More in the extended entry.

Notably, the Populists are also heavy on the class of 2006, as 14 of the 20 members listed by the Huffington Post were first elected to Congress that year (and Massa came within an inch of being a 15th that year). Only Boswell, DeFazio, Filner Sanchez and Schakowsky were first elected to Congress before 2006. As such, while it displayed the same fractured tendencies of all ideological caucuses across the three bailout votes, the Populist Caucus appears to be primarily a caucus of progressive sophomore Representatives. This is particularly interesting since the class of 2006 was supposed to be a conservative dominated class ushered in by then -DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel. Now, the progressive members of that class appear to have organized a new caucus for themselves.

It is also worth noting that the caucus is 65% (13 out of 20) white and male, making the caucus demographically much more like the New Democrats (who are also at 65%) than like the Progressives (who are at about 28%). Thus, not only is the caucus a group of sophomore progressives, it seems to be a fairly "white progressive," too.

Even with that demographic caveat, this is still a caucus of which I think we need to be supportive. Upon entering the House, progressives lack a support network comparable to that offered by Blue Dogs or New Democrats. By organizing new House members, including nine potentially endangered Democrats who captured seats that were held by Republicans before the 2006 elections, the Populists have the potential to function as a non-right wing, non-corporate, support network for newly elected Democrats to succeed in endangered districts. As such, many of our future progressive leaders in Congress may very well come from the Populist caucus. That is a promising start, and one that I hope flourishes.

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