When Alabama Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright recently joked that Speaker of the House “might get sick and die” – preventing her from another tenure as Speaker – it was only the most outlandish instance of politically vulnerable Democrats suddenly expressing their opposition to their Party’s leadership in Washington.
Here are some of the more notable examples.
Joe Donnelly, Indiana Democrat
The Peter denying Jesus
Rep. Joe Donnelly is “Indiana’s most independent congressman,” as he said in a recent campaign advertisement. He’s so independent, he “voted against Nancy Pelosi’s energy tax on Hoosier families.”
But Donnelly and Pelosi weren’t always at odds on energy policy. On March 1, 2008, he delivered the Democratic Party’s radio address on energy policy, which Pelosi then posted on her YouTube page.
The speech was mostly a collection of policy buzzwords and did not address cap-and-trade (the “energy tax” Donnelly voted against). But Donnelly’s shift was rather marked. One year he’s touting the “new direction Congress,” the next he’s advertising his role in opposing it.
Donnelly is taking a hard anti-trade line in another advertisement. “I oppose NAFTA and vote against every single bad trade agreement,” he said. However, he has held at least two fundraisers with Rep. John Tanner, a pro-trade Democrat who heads an important trade subcommittee.
In terms of money overall, one would think Donnelly might be grateful to the Democratic Party for its generous gifts to him. Over the course of his short political career, Donnelly’s largest single donor, by far, is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has given him $161,690.
Bonus fact: Donnelly is also running an advertisement on immigration to highlight his opposition to Obama on the issue, who is prominently featured as representing “the Washington crowd.” The ad describes illegal immigrants as “illegals” twice, which may trigger interest by TeaPartyTracker.org.
Bobby Bright, Alabama Democrat
When Rep. Bobby Bright was eying a bid for Congress, he had to make an important decision. As a mayor, he had no party affiliation. Helping him make that crucial choice was a political memo prepared by his advisors, which pointed out that Bright could ride Obama’s coattails to victory if he signed up with the Democrats. Given the large number of black voters in Alabama’s second district, the memo noted, signing up for hope and change “could add 3-5 points” on Election Day.
Bright decided he was a Democrat, and the rest is history — Bright and his fellow Alabamian Rep. Parker Griffith both rode to victory.
Representing a conservative Alabama district in the Obama era proved politically difficult, however. On Jan. 6, 2009, the House voted Pelosi its Speaker, but only a few weeks later, Bright was opposing his Party’s first major piece of legislation, the economic stimulus bill.
“The response from my constituents has been overwhelmingly in opposition to this bill,” Bright explained at the time.
Still, Democrats seemed to understand the position Bright was in. On June 23, 2009, the number two ranking Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, held a fundraiser for Bright and Griffith.
Griffith parted with Bright, switching to the Republican Party. Bright took another route, voting against the Democrats on every single major bill, including cap-and-trade, Obamacare and even the financial reform bill.
Bright claimed in a campaign ad he’s “the most independent member of Congress” and that he’s an “independent conservative.” National Journal rated him as the single most right wing Democrat in the House.
Bonus fact: In spite of Bright opposing the Democrats on every crucial vote, each member of Democratic leadership still gave him money this election cycle. Overall, he’s received $82,000 from Democratic leadership PACs. Perhaps joking about Pelosi’s death will finally put him at odds with his Party’s leadership?