by Jeremy Young | 6/24/2008 05:31:00 AM
(Cross-posted at Open Left and The Wild, Wild Left.)

This isn't something that I personally will be involved in, because I no longer live in MD-05 (though I went to school there from 2002-2006). But someone should do it. In this post, I'll explain why and how.

To most progressives, Steny Hoyer is a disgrace. Among his many transgressions are the following: voting for the Iraq War (and continuing to support supplemental funding); co-authoring the bankruptcy bill; voting with Republicans on No Child Left Behind and Terri Schiavo; serving as lead sponsor for Bush's Help America Vote Act; and most recently, negotiating the odious FISA compromise complete with telecom immunity.

And Steny Hoyer will likely be the next Speaker of the House.

How do we stop this? To my mind, there are three possible solutions. We could work to defeat him as Majority Leader in January 2009, but I see little chance of that working. He's owed so many favors by other members of Congress that Nancy Pelosi herself couldn't dislodge him in 2006; why should the progressive blogosphere be able to do any better? We could support his Republican opponent, but I don't like voting for Republicans, and good luck getting anybody serious to run against Hoyer in any case. The last Republican who got more than 40% of the vote against Hoyer was State Delegate John Morgan in 1996. In 2006, no Republican ran against Hoyer at all.

There is, however, a third option. We could do what Marshall Grossman wants to do: primary Hoyer from the left.

Grossman doesn't have a candidate in mind, but I do. Over the flip, I'll introduce you to him, and answer your questions about the potential race.

When you first visit St. Mary's County, the southernmost of the counties in MD-05, you usually sign up to take a skipjack tour of the lovely St. Mary's River estuary, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Aboard the watercraft, you'll meet a gruff, amiable middle-aged man who goes by "Cap'n Jack." Cap'n Jack is Francis "Jack" Russell, a lifelong waterman and former environmental science teacher who runs boat tours for school groups and tourist groups. Everybody in St. Mary's County knows Cap'n Jack, and everybody likes him -- and who wouldn't? He's kind to schoolchildren, folksy in a way ordinary people relate to, a lifelong resident of the county, and he knows everything there is to know about the water and maritime life that is the signal feature of this district.

But there's another side to Jack Russell: his lifelong interest in government. His bachelor's degree is in government (received in 1965; Russell is 65 years old, four years younger than Steny Hoyer). He's served on seven local and state fisheries commissions since 1980. And in 2006, Russell decided to take his political career to the next level and run for St. Mary's County Commission President, a position roughly analogous to a county mayor. To the surprise of many outside the county and few inside it, Cap'n Jack walloped a crowded primary field with 56% of the vote and then defeated his Republican opponent 2-1, a particularly surprising result given that the previous holder of the open seat was a Republican.

Since then, Russell has proven to be a popular politician, a capable administrator, and a team player. Rather than describing what he's done, I'll let the Washington Post do it for me -- and if you can keep from falling in love with Cap'n Jack as a candidate after reading that article, you're made of sterner stuff than I. The article only hints at what I think is Russell's greatest selling point as a liberal alternative to Hoyer: his staunch liberalism on environmental issues. Russell has actually reconfigured his car to run on french-fry grease. He's been a leading advocate of slow growth, and thus a thorn in the side of corporate interests. He's also backing racial integration in government, a courageous stance in a county like St. Mary's. And his leadership has been praised as "model" by state officials.

MD-05 contains a sizable swath of the Washington, DC suburbs, but no urban liberal will be able to wage a successful primary campaign against Hoyer in this mostly-rural and culturally-conservative district. Instead, we need a man of the sea and the soil whose liberal values derive from his love of his natural surroundings. Jack Russell is that man, and I couldn't imagine a better candidate to take on Steny Hoyer from the left in 2010.

Now, to a few of your questions:

Can Russell beat Hoyer?

If this becomes a Lamont-Lieberman-style race, maybe. Russell has an incredible amount of name recognition in the district, nearly all of it positive, and is rumored to be a fairly wealthy man. With enough support from the blogosphere and financial backing from outside the district, Russell could run an extremely formidable race. Hoyer hasn't had a serious challenger in over a decade, or a serious Democratic primary challenge since he was elected in 1981, so no one knows how vulnerable he is.

The downside is that Russell is a poor public speaker, while Hoyer is an incredibly good one. I've heard both men speak in person, and there's just no contest. However, Russell's folksy ineloquence might appeal to voters who see Hoyer as too slick.

Also, it's important to note that even an unsuccessful primary challenge can drive a scared incumbent to the left, as we learned from the Fallon-Boswell race this cycle. I can't guarantee a Russell victory, but I'm positive that the popular St. Mary's County Commissioner President will give Hoyer one heck of a scare.

Can the Republicans take the seat if Russell wins the primary?

Unfortunately, maybe. The Republicans only have one A-list candidate in the district, but he's a doozy -- State House of Delegates Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell. O'Donnell won't be in the majority any time soon, so he'd love a crack at the Congressional seat, but he knows he can't beat Hoyer. Russell, however, is another matter. On the other hand, O'Donnell wouldn't jump into the race unless he thought Russell was going to be the Dem nominee. I'm pretty sure even a damaged Hoyer could beat O'Donnell, and I'd give Russell a very good chance as well. Even if O'Donnell won, with as big a majority as we're going to have in Congress after this cycle, I'd rather have one more odious Republican in the minority than an odious Democratic Speaker directing the majority.

Will Russell run?

Only with a ferocious draft effort -- and I think we should start that today. Somebody in the district needs to buy and start getting pledges together. Make enough noise now, and I'm pretty sure we'll have a race for the ages on our hands come 2010!



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Blogger Lisa Pease on 6/30/2008 10:17 PM:

Add another black mark against Hoyer: I have it on high authority that he's the one who keeps killing any bill that would remove those awful, unaccountable direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines.

I think if Progressives really started paying attention to who backs and doesn't back important legislation, we can effect a revolution in the next two years. There are enough of us online now to have an effect. We have to make sure these people have solid primary challengers and then support the heck out of them if they are progressives..!


Blogger Jeremy Young on 6/30/2008 11:25 PM:

Absolutely, Lisa -- it's time for us to stop supporting Democrats who don't support our issues, and back only those who do.