View to Washington: Blue Dog Effect

By Kerry Eleveld

Originally published on Advocate.com August 02 2009 11:00 PM ET

This month we have seen the muscle of the "Blue Dog" Democrats, who in my opinion all but rendered House Republicans irrelevant in the health care debate by performing what normally would have been the job of the GOP -- working to moderate the bill.

That got me thinking: If the Blue Dogs effectively bottled up the health reform bill in the House, what influence, if any, might they be having on LGBT rights? On the one hand, you have someone like Rep. Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania, who has stepped up as the lead on repealing "don't ask, don't tell," but on the other hand there's Rep. Heath Shuler, a pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-equality Democrat from North Carolina.

First, a little background -- the Blue Dogs are a group of 52 fiscally conservative House Democrats who were recruited by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to run for office, in many cases, in traditionally Republican districts. For instance, 35 members of the coalition hailed from districts that voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008, according to Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner .

Rahm Emanuel, who headed the DCCC in the 2006 midterms and was a chief adviser in 2008, focused heavily in this area, which in large part led to the Democrats dominating the House with 256 seats this Congress. Of course, that also makes the Dogs an instrumental part of the caucus since without them, Democrats fall short of the 218 votes it takes to pass a bill.

Forty of the Blue Dogs signed a letter in early July warning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that they wouldn't vote for health reform without significant changes to hold down costs, and they managed to bog down the bill in committee until more progressive Dems made some concessions. Rep. Maxine Waters of California summed up the sentiments of many progressives on MSNBC when she said, "Now, the chickens have come home to roost."

As a point of inquiry, I decided to match up the Blue Dogs on the only LGBT vote taken this year in the House -- the hate-crimes expansion bill, which passed 249-175 and is considered one of the ripest pieces of pro-LGBT legislation (although even some pro-LGBT folks oppose it on philosophical grounds). Of the 52-person coalition, 35 Blue Dogs, or 67%, voted to pass the bill -- meaning that even if a few other Democrats were lost on the vote, the Blue Dogs would have provided more than enough padding to push the legislation through, even without the 18 Republicans who also voted for it.

Overall, 16 Blue Dogs voted against hate crimes with one abstention and, broken down by region, 12 of those congressional members were Southerners, three were Midwesterners, and one was from the Northeast (Christopher Carney, PA-10).


To be honest, none of this struck me as particularly surprising -- I suspected that a healthy majority of Blue Dogs might have voted pro-LGBT on hate crimes, and that of those who didn't, the vast majority would likely represent the South.

But it does demonstrate another point for those who are specifically interested in pushing LGBT rights forward -- swelling the Democratic majorities by electing more Heath Shulers in the South does little to advance LGBT equality. The community would be better served, in fact, by letting Democrats lose some of those Southern seats while focusing on electing some pro-LGBT Republicans in the Midwest and Northeast. In fact, that would be particularly helpful in the Senate. The only caveat is that the movement certainly has an interest in keeping Democrats in the majority.

I devoted my column last week to highlighting the candidacy of New York state assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava -- a pro-marriage equality Republican running for Congress. Her race could serve as an interesting test case for the LGBT community depending on who runs against her. Will the community back the Democrat even if he or she can't match Scozzafava's record on LGBT issues, or will LGBT leaders and donors put their full weight behind a candidate who put her seat on the line to vote her conscience on marriage?

 

Blue Dogs Hate Crimes Vote

Altmire, Jason (PA-04) 
 Y

Arcuri, Mike (NY-24)
 Y

Baca, Joe (CA-43) Y

Barrow, John (GA-12)
 Y

Berry, Marion (AR-01) Abstain

Bishop, Sanford (GA-02)
 Y

Boren, Dan (OK-02)
 N

Boswell, Leonard (IA-03) 
 Y

Boyd, Allen (FL-02)
 Y

Bright, Bobby (AL-02)
 N

Cardoza, Dennis (CA-18) Y


Carney, Christopher (PA-10)
 N

Chandler, Ben (KY-06)
 Y

Childers, Travis (MS-01) N


Cooper, Jim (TN-05)
 Y

Costa, Jim (CA-20) Y

Cuellar, Henry (TX-28) 
 Y

Dahlkemper, Kathy (PA-03) Y

Davis, Lincoln (TN-04)
 N

Donnelly, Joe (IN-02) N

Ellsworth, Brad (IN-08) N

Giffords, Gabrielle (AZ-08)
 Y

Gordon, Bart (TN-06)
 N

Griffith, Parker (AL-05) N

Harman, Jane (CA-36)
 Y

Herseth Sandlin, Stephanie (SD)
 Y

Hill, Baron (IN-09)
 Y

Holden, Tim (PA-17)
 Y

Kratovil, Jr., Frank (MD-01)
 Y

McIntyre, Mike (NC-07)
 N

Marshall, Jim (GA-03)
 Y

Matheson, Jim (UT-02)
 Y

Melancon, Charlie (LA-03)
 N

Michaud, Mike (ME-02)
 Y

Minnick, Walt (ID-01)
 Y

Mitchell, Harry (AZ-05)
 Y

Moore, Dennis (KS-03) Y

Murphy, Patrick (PA-08)
 Y

Nye, Glenn (VA-02) Y

Peterson, Collin (MN-07)
 N

Pomeroy, Earl (ND)
 Y

Ross, Mike (AR-04)
 N

Salazar, John (CO-03)
 Y

Sanchez, Loretta (CA-47) Y

Schiff, Adam (CA-29)
 Y

Scott, David (GA-13)
 Y

Shuler, Heath (NC-11)
 N

Space, Zack (OH-18)
 Y

Tanner, John (TN-08)
 N

Taylor, Gene (MS-04)
 N

Thompson, Mike (CA-01)
 Y

Wilson, Charles (OH-06) Y