Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Democrats to get filibuster-proof sixty?

If you've been following political news you may know that comedian, writer, and political talk show host Al Franken (above), most famous for his time with Saturday Night Live, has been declared the winner of last November's election for Minnesota's US Senate seat following a carefully handled recount. He is ahead of former Senator Norm Coleman, who was himself ahead on election night and prior to the recount, by only a few hundred votes. Coleman's appeals mean the matter won't be resolved any sooner than June, possibly later. 

In the meantime, Minnesota only has one vote in the Senate, and the Republicans seem to like it that way if it prevents Franken from offering up a vote for the Democrats. 

Anyhow, the Franken-Coleman matter will probably receive even more attention now that we've received news that one of Pennsylvania's US Senators, moderate Republican Arlen Specter, is switching parties and will run for re-election as a Democrat in 2010. His willingness to reach out across the aisle has earned him — and many of his GOP colleagues from the Northeast — derision from the right wing of his own party. 

If the courts recognize Franken's victory, then the Democrats will have sixty US Senators, a filibuster-proof majority if they all stay together on the same issue. 

There is a veritable movement to boot out these so-called RINOs ("Republicans in name only") during the primaries, as was tried in 2006 with Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, who went on to lose the general election. Threatened RINOs include Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine, who have shown a willingness to work with President Obama on some of his more moderate policies. (Even John McCain is considered to be a RINO.)

Back to the Democrats and their filibuster-proof supermajority. Frankly, I'm always a little nervous when one party has too much power. Some of the members can get fat and lazy, while others get abusive. Look at what a disaster we saw when the Republicans held the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate for most of the past eight years. 

I'm glad at least that the magic number of sixty is being reached thanks to an increase in so-called "blue dog Democrats" and turncoats such as Specter: While I don't agree with all their policies, that ideological mix and the threat to cross over with the Republicans on some issues forces the Democrats to stay mainstream. 

As a moderate Democrat — and one who will end his party affiliation if the Korus FTA does not pass and Hawaii Democrats legalize gambling in this state — I worry about the Democrats going too far to the left, employing methods of social justice that don't have a firm sociological and economic grounding. 

By the way, this party-switching is nothing new and it goes both ways. After the Democrats' disastrous defeat in the 1994 Congressional elections, Colorado US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (an interesting figure who was not only the sole Native American in Congress for a while but also was an Olympic athlete and had spent four years studying Japanese culture in Tokyo in the 1960s) and US Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama both switched to the GOP. 

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