During the past month, I have done a number of interviews with various media outlets on the question of what type house speaker Nancy Pelosi will be.
The votes must still be counted on Nov. 7, but it is the overwhelming consensus of political observers that Democrats will win enough seats (at least 15 but probably more) to make Rep. Pelosi the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Reporters have been calling me because I ran unsuccessfully against Nancy for house minority leader four years ago. I assume they were hoping that I would say something critical about her. I have not.
First of all, it is important to understand that politicians are all ambitious and that you don’t have to dislike someone to oppose them for a party leadership position. You make your case and your colleagues pick the winner by secret ballot. I withdrew from the race and did not take the contest to an actual ballot when it became clear that Nancy would win.
Let’s first be clear about Nancy’s credentials. She has served in the House for 19 years and has been elected both minority whip and minority leader by a vote of her colleagues. Prior to entering Congress, she was chairman of the California State Democratic Party and was a leading fundraiser for U.S. Senate Democrats.
She represents a liberal San Francisco district but has worked hard to forge consensus even when that consensus varies somewhat from the politics of her own district.
Nancy has demonstrated during the past four years that she is very capable of holding a diverse group of House Democrats together on key issues. That’s important because a political party must demonstrate that it is unified behind some common themes even if individual members wind up casting opposing votes on some of the details.
Republicans may not like some of the positions taken by Democrats in the House during her two terms as minority leader but at least Democrats were unified. In the past, that was not always the case.
Additionally, Nancy is tough and has made it clear that she expects loyalty from individual Democrats once a fundamental decision has been made. If she were from the South, she would be called a steel magnolia. She has not been afraid to let Democratic House members know that there will be consequences for their actions when they buck the leadership.
Republicans have been very good at enforcing party discipline in recent years. There is nothing wrong with Democrats taking a page from their playbook.
Her toughness also has been clear when responding to President Bush, Karl Rove and the rest of the Republican spin-machine.
In the past, Democrats often have been seen as weak in dealing with tough-minded Republicans. Now the shoe is on the other foot. There is a tendency to say a woman is shrill when the stands her ground. Contrary to what the Republicans say to the press, Nancy has not been shrill…she’s just been tough.
Also, Nancy has been decisive. The public doesn’t respond well to politicians who vacillate and blow with the wind. It has been my experience during 26 years of serving in elected office that the public will cut you a little slack when a politician takes a clear stand even when the public doesn’t always agree with every position you take.
And her election as speaker will serve as an enormous symbol that the United States has finally joined the 21st century by giving a capable woman the opportunity to lead. We will join the ranks of England, Germany, Chile, Israel and India in promoting women to top positions in elected government.
There is no guarantee that Nancy will succeed…. every politician must perform once given the opportunity. But, at least, she will have the chance to succeed.
Just as Newt Gingrich graced the covers of Time and Newsweek when Republicans won control of the House in 1994, you can expect to see Nancy Pelosi’s smiling face on your newsstands shortly.
But it takes more than a smile to lead. She has the inner strength and determination to be a strong leader and no one should underestimate her. It is quite possible that Nancy Pelosi will become the Margaret Thatcher of the Left.
Just as the late Washington Post cartoonist Herblock gave Richard Nixon a clean shave after he was elected president in 1968, should the Democrats win Tuesday, all the naysayers on the right will need to take a deep breath and give Speaker Pelosi a chance to show what she can do.
She will be working with a strong cast of very experienced committee chairmen, many of whom have served for decades in the House and are well versed in the intricacies of public policy issues pending before their respective committees. She will have a talented and diverse supporting cast in the remainder of her leadership team. And she will have a mandate from the voters to change the way business is done in Washington.
Equally importantly, Nancy has a program of specific legislation that she wants to see passed during the first few days of her speakership. The subjects range from increasing the minimum wage to enacting stronger ethics rules in the House to making some significant changes in the Medicare prescription drug bill passed by Congress a few years ago.
The next two years should be fun to watch.
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Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.