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Condi Rice vs. Cynthia McKinney

by MARK DONHAM

George Bush has nominated Condoleezza Rice to be his next Secretary of State and Cynthia McKinney has been reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives. For one, I’d love to see Rice go head to head on US foreign policy with Congressowman-elect Cynthia McKinney. But the only way any of us can see that happen is for Cynthia to regain her service and seniority on the House International Relations Committee (HIRC), which has jurisdiction over the State Department and our country’s foreign policy. I can’t think of any reason why the Democratic leadership wouldn’t want this.

And McKinney is perfectly suited to the task. She served on the International Relations Committee for ten years and the Armed Services Committee for four years. She studied International Relations at the University of Southern California and at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She has been accepted into the Berkeley Ph.D. program. McKinney is perfectly positioned by experience and education to raise serious security issues that are on the minds of all Americans today.

In a recent article “Many Rice Defenders Hypocritical,” (Madison, WI
“Capitol Times”) John Nichols points out that “right-wing political operatives and their allies in major media–as well as conservative Democrats” battered McKinney to election defeat in 2002 because she dared to ask tough questions about what was known by the Bush Administration prior to the attacks of September 11th. However, January 4, 2005, McKinney will return to Congress, having overcome this opposition with impressive grassroots support, and showing that a successful campaign can be run with little money and lots of heart. With her seniority intact, McKinney will be able to challenge important Bush initiatives because she would resume her seat among the top-tiered Democrats on the HIRC and as the Democrats’ highest ranking member on an important HIRC subcommittee. McKinney would also be able to continue her important service on the Armed Services Committee where she questioned select Pentagon contracts with the Carlyle Group, Halliburton, and DynPort; $2.3 trillion in lost Pentagon cash; and the breath-taking Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. This would provide a critical counterbalance to the overly heavy influence of those neo-conservatives that dragged us into the unwise war with Iraq.

The response to McKinney’s return to Congress from her district, progressives across the country, individual Members and Congressional staffers has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. The failure of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to quickly restore McKinney’s seniority suggests that they are out of touch with their constituents, and are bucking history. When Congressional leadership wants to help a congressperson who has reclaimed a lost seat, or even switched parties, they certainly can and have done so. Take these examples.

Billy Tauzin, Nathan Deal, and Virgil Goode (all first elected as U.S. House of Representatives Democrats) switched parties and received rewards from the Republican party leadership in the form of committee assignments. Billy Tauzin, switched to the Republican Party in 1995, with much influence from Newt Gingrich, and was able to attain seniority on the Energy and Commerce Committee over colleagues who had either more party or committee seniority. Nathan Deal, after his party switch, was rewarded with a seat on the coveted Energy and Commerce Committee, and Virgil Goode received a scarce Appropriations Committee slot. Now, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that after a 15-year hiatus, former California Representative Dan Lungren (another Gingrich protegee, by the way) would likely have his past service on the Judiciary Committee counted toward his seniority.

Similar precedent exists within the Democratic Party. Jane Harman, Representative from the State of California, was granted her seniority upon returning to Congress. In 1998, Rep. Harman decided to forgo campaigning for another term in the U.S. House and opted to run for the Gubernatorial seat of California; unfortunately she was unsuccessful. In 2000, Harman returned to Congress with her previous three term seniority intact. “Harman owes her ranking status on the subcommittee to a promise she extracted from the Democratic leaders when they recruited her to run against Republican Rep. Steve Kuykendall in 2000.” (The Daily Breeze-December 30, 2001)

Representative David Price from North Carolina lost his bid for re-election in 1994; upon his return to Congress in 1996, Price assumed a seat on a much sought after exclusive committee, with support from the Democratic leadership.

Shouldn’t McKinney be touted and treated in a similar manner by the House Democratic Leadership? To not do so seems ill-advised in my opinion. Statistical analyzes of the last election (which I put only a certain amount of faith in) seem to indicate that minority voting blocks are somewhat rethinking their once-reliable party affiliations. Democrats may not be able to take them for granted as time goes on. How can Ms. Pelosi, a California “liberal,” think that treating unfairly a very popular African-American Congresswoman from the South, where the Democrats are slipping into obscurity on the national level, is going to get her or the party anywhere? I just can’t see any advantage at all to not reinstating Congresswoman McKinney’s seniority, regardless of the ranting and ravings of those on the right. Yet, McKinney is struggling to regain her influence. Why?

Congresswoman McKinney has been an asset to the Democratic Party for over a decade. She spoke out and spoke up on issues that are important to all Democrats, but especially for those of us who are proud to call ourselves progressives. In addition to asking tough questions about 9-11, McKinney authored important legislation that would prevent clear-cutting in our national forests; stop the use of depleted uranium weapons; and regulate US weapons transfers to non-democratic, human rights abusing regimes. While she was out of office, she traveled regularly, speaking to and meeting with progressive organizations on a variety of important issues including civil rights, the environment, election reform, and others. She has been on the front line of progressive issues, and, as a front liner, has taken the attacks. Yes, she was injured, but she has fought back and should be rewarded for her strength and courage, not relegated to “the back of the bus.” Besides, I want to see Cynthia questioning Ms. Rice. I think it’s only fair, and the only way we are going to have the hard questions asked.

Cynthia McKinney deserves her seniority. It was only because of the relentless attacks and organized and well funded smear campaign from the extreme right who wanted to silence her questions that she lost the two years of her seat that she did. This year she ran a great campaign, beating out a half dozen really great candidates by winning over 50% in the primary–a real sign of grassroots support in her district. And she did it without spending a lot of money in relative terms for a congressional race. She should be rewarded for this to the fullest, not penalized.

 

 

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