Now that the election (including runoffs, delayed elections, etc.) is over, I'm ready (once again) to publish my post on the top three departures (yeah, I know that the Minnesota recount is still technically going on but even if things really turn around and Franken wins, Coleman isn't really a Republican who I can't stand.) This year's list was a little harder to assemble than 2006 (when I picked Don Rumsfeld, Rick Santorum and J.D. Hayworth), but then most of the really 'low hanging fruit' was gone. But not all of it. I might also add that this list is only a 'feet first' list-- those who actually are leaving because they lost an election (or in the case of Rumsfeld in 2006, were forced to leave not on their own accord.) Hence, although I'd love to include my departing congressman Rick Renzi (who is departing to federal court where he will face trial on charges of extortion, money laundering and embezzlement) he at least chose to not seek re-election, which makes him ineligible for this list.
So here is the 2008 list.
3. (tie) Ted Stevens/William Jefferson
No, Blago isn't gone yet. And as I just noted Renzi (and also indicted California Republican John Doolittle) at least are leaving on their feet by retiring instead of having the office ripped away from them directly by the voters. Not so with Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the Senate (and also the king of pork), who last year was convicted on bribery charges and who still almost pulled out a win in Alaska (must be something in the water up there.) "Almost" is the operative word though. Stevens lost to Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, and for that we can all be thankful. Then last week, the same thing happened to William Jefferson. Despite running in a heavily African-American and Democratic district in New Orleans (a place where politicians have long been synonymous with corruption,) voters got rid of Jefferson and elected a Republican, Anh "Joseph" Cao (who in this year of firsts, is the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.) As you may recall, Jefferson is the indicted Congressman who tried to hide $90,000 in cash in his refrigerator. He managed to eke out a win in 2006 when he was involved in a runoff against a very controversial Democrat, but against a guy who was supposed to be a token opponent (Cao) and where the pundits hadn't even bothered to make a projection, he lost in an election that was delayed because of Hurricane Gustav. As I wrote last week, I am very happy about this outcome. Corruption is a problem that stretches across partisanship. Barack Obama had pointedly refused to endorse Jefferson this year (the only Democratic member of Congress who had sought Obama's endorsement that he turned down). So good riddance to Mr. Stevens and Mr. Jefferson. Maybe they can share something else in the future besides just being tied on this list. Like, maybe a cell, a bunk and a toilet.
2. Robin Hayes
"liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God."
-- Rep. Robin Hayes, (R-NC).
Yeah, just feel the love and warmth around this guy. This kind of speech may go over well with talk radio listeners and right wing loonies, but Hayes apparently forgot that he had to win more votes than that. Talk radio nuts and right-wingers who think liberals are evil and malicious don't make up the majority of the electorate, not even in Jesse Helms' home state. Hayes, through a spokeswoman at first denied saying this, until he was confronted with an audiotape. Hayes had, until he made this comment had been leading in a competitive race that was leaning his way, but ended up losing solidly to Democratic challenger Larry Kissell. It is worth noting that this occurred in North Carolina, where Senator Liddy Dole also stumbled late by poisoning the water and trying to tie rival Kay Hagan to an atheist group, even to the point of hiring someone to mimic Hagan's voice saying something she never said. It is also worth noting that though Barack Obama, thanks to intensive voter registration drives and an excellent ground game won the state, Kissell (in his district) and Hagan (statewide) did even better than Obama, indicating that there were some North Carolinians who voted for John McCain but couldn't handle the kind of rhetoric that they heard coming from Hayes and Dole.
1. Marilyn Musgrave
Without a doubt, Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) was the biggest target for progressives this year. For starters, she has been the most conservative member of Congress according to the American Conservative Union, which gave her a 99 percent liftime rating. Musgrave worked hard to change comprehensive sex education to abstinence-only (as a school board member, then a state legislator and then as a congresswoman.) She also took a very hardline against any kind of recognition of rights for gays, arguing that homosexuality was a disease. She also tried to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage. Musgrave was also one of Congress' most vocal opponents of abortion, and sponsored several anti-abortion initiatives. Musgrave also proposed sponsored legislation designed to outlaw online gambling, especially internet poker.
Musgrave is more than just a social conservative however. She is conservative all the way down the line, getting support from the National Taxpayers Union, the Club for Growth and a number of anti-tax organizations. She has pushed hard for the elimination of all estate (inheritance) taxes. She is a staunch supporter of various initiatives to drive down wages, from Right to Work legislation to her working to convince President Bush to suspend the Davis-Bacon wage protection act in the gulf coast following Hurricane Katrina (which Bush had to do a U-turn on following a public outcry, including from gulf coast residents who questioned why a representative from Colorado was giving advice to the President on how to pay people who were working to rebuild after the hurricane.)
Musgrave was running in a district that is a classic swing district. It includes a number of Republican-leaning rural counties, Larimer county, home of Colorado State University and reliably liberal, and Weld county, a suburban Denver county where she had won in the past. Musgrave has been remarkably scandal-free, so as an incumbent, even in a Democratic year, in theory she should have been able to win. Her opponent was Betsy Markey.
Markey's line was very simple and direct: Musgrave was too conservative. And it worked, as Markey won. And won big, by a double digit margin. So the message is clear. Conservatives for years made a living off of attacking liberals for being liberals. But if you're too conservative, that alone may be enough to beat you in the future.