One of Ohio’s four Democratic Congressman, 43-year old Tim Ryan of Niles near Youngstown, lost a widely watched bid to topple Nancy Pelosi from California in a House Democratic Caucus election held Wednesday.
Sixty-three Democrats went rogue by voting for Ryan, sending shock waves through Democratic leadership circles that a new message and a new messenger is needed to win back voters who ditched the party and its presidential candidate this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Nancy Pelosi, 76 years old, was favored to win, which she did by beating Ryan, who’s been in the House since 2002, by 71 votes [134-63] or eight votes more than Ryan won. Election watchers said Pelosi’s win was a testament to her vote-counting skills and to her ability to hang onto power, especially after Republicans won the White House, House and Senate. The votes were secret.
The AP reported Pelosi supporters saying she was their “best bet to confront a President Donald Trump from a defensive crouch in the minority after Democrats’ picked up only a half-dozen seats in the House, far fewer than anticipated. Republicans are on track to hold at least 240 seats in the House next year, while Democrats will have 194.”
After her anticipated win, Rep. Pelosi said, “I have a special spring in my step today because this opportunity is a special one, to lead the House Democrats, bring everyone together as we go forward.”
One turnabout that Ryan’s run is responsible for is a decision by Pelosi to adopt reforms to the DCCC he proposed. Post-election reports say she will back the election of the chair of the DCCC, according to a letter she sent to her colleagues Wednesday night. She will also add five new leadership spots, including two for junior members. Among other changes, Pelosi will back the creation of ‘vice chairs’ or ‘vice ranking members’ within the committee structure, a move said to give junior members more say on what happens within panels.
Rep. Ryan and his backers held to the argument that they had won a victory of sorts by sending a message to Pelosi about the need for change among House Democrats. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who voted for Ryan, commended the seven-term Ryan for gathering 63 votes in about two weeks. Ryan said somebody had to do something and claims prospects for Democrats in the future have improved due to his race and his conversation with Pelosi.
In a wide ranging call with media after his loss, Rep. Ryan was proud of the race he ran, calling it a victory that showed lots of class. He said he’s had to bite his tongue in years past, but wanted to help define the national message going forward, especially on economic issues. His opinion and belief, he said, “comes from the people I represent, think about and worry about.” Giving voice to people from Ohio who feel disconnected to Democrats and the Democratic Party, he said, argues for a different direction.
Calling his conversation with Pelosi a “big boy, big girl” discussion, he said he told the truth from his perspective. Like engaging in a tough discussion with family, Ryan said he’s been anxious since 2010 when Republicans won the majority again as the emergence of the Tea Party, with its anger at government in general and President Obama in particular, took the speaker’s gavel of Pelosi’s hands and passed it to John Boehner, a former Ohio congressman who held it until retiring earlier this year.
Ryan said he’s been told to stay in line for too many years. But after getting “slaughtered across the country” this election season, he decided to share his vision for the party, including standing up for working class people and progressives by focusing on “what people care about back home”: economic issues. In his frank discussion with Leader Pelosi, Ryan said unless changes comes about, and soon, Democrats might be an opposition, minority party that never gets back into the majority.
Ryan said it was heartbreaking to him that people back home in Ohio didn’t connect with the party or its nominee. He questioned whether there was something more he could have done, but it’s hard to do that, he said, as one surrogate who sees places like Akron, Youngstown and Cleveland as real America, more so than “highfalutin” neighborhoods in Manhattan or Georgetown or Washington D.C.
By taking 63 votes, he said it will be difficult for Minority Leader Pelosi to have retribution. He would be offended if that were to occur, because he doesn’t think it’s politically smart to be punished for voicing concerns others see as important going forward. He said the election was akin to a sports competition, where you “play with class and sportsmanship.”
Economic messaging needs to resonate with his constituents back home, he told Pelosi, who he shook hands with and who he will support in a united front. He said he was happy he challenged Pelosi but doesn’t know if he would do it again. Borrowing a phrase made famous by Russia’s World War II leader Joseph Stalin, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Ryan joked with reporters about how bad Democrats lost this year, saying “You can’t fall off the floor.”
Ryan lamented that “we are a coastal party” that needs to figure out a message and new messengers to deliver it. If Donald Trump delivers on his promises, including wages rising and jobs returning, Ryan said he’d be happy because he’s not blinded by ideology. If they work for people in Ohio, he’ll lend a hand to get them done. But they have to be real proposals, not tweets that stimulate cable news stations.
He had a concise six-word response to what will happens to Buckeyes who lose their health insurance if and when Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act: “They are going to be screwed, there’s no other way to say it!” He will fight any repeal of the ACA by the GOP because he wants to fix it, not scrap it. “I know these people in the House, Trump can hedge, but we need to fight back.” Taking health care away, he said, is “not a way to ingratiate yourself with voters in Ohio.”
In addition to taking care of workers back home, Rep. Ryan is keen on servicing Millennials, who he said will be not too many years from now be 50 percent of the workforce.
Now that he broke ranks and ran against Leader Pelosi, getting a third of the party caucus in the process, Ryan was asked why he doesn’t go further and toss his hat into the ring for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a post that won’t be filled until February? Six names have been floated for the position, including Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. Ryan said of the names out there, he likes Ray Buckley, Chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Committee. Ryan, a lawyer, said he met Buckley when he was in law school in the Granite State. While he hasn’t given the DNC chairman position any thought, whoever wins it, he said, should “vertically integrate” Democrats. He thinks the job is a full-time job, which would argue against Ellison getting it, that needs direction and someone with the skill set to do that. He also said the low-pay of a couple hundred thousand dollars is also a problem, arguing that more money will attract someone to make needed reforms.
A big concern for Ryan is what happens to Democrats in mid-term elections when voter turnout goes down and Republicans tend to win governorships and state legislatures, that turn into district reapportionment plans that favor the party that draws the maps. Making his point, he said the party didn’t listen to him when he advised it to become more involved in the statewide races in Ohio in 2010. That year, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland lost narrowly [2%] to John Kasich as GOP candidates swept all offices and regained control of the Ohio House again. Republicans redrew legislative districts to benefit them in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said what others who voted for Ryan were thinking: “I am deeply disappointed today as the House Democratic Caucus has decided to double down on its failed strategy of recent years. It is obvious the current strategy doesn’t work; millions of Americans don’t feel that our party represents them anymore and they’ve said so, loudly, in multiple elections.”
He called for more civic engagement by Democrats going forward. He wants to better connect daily with people, including Millennials who he said don’t watch TV. “We’re spending money but not talking to group that engages with Democrats most of the time,” he said. The party should deliver more money and resources to candidates earlier on, then build local infrastructure after elections are over.
“You run and lose, then pick up and leave. How do we stay engaged?” Ryan wondered.