Monday, November 13, 2006

The Fall of America's Most Obnoxious Congressman

You can hum the lede to this week's column, if you want, or listen through the links below. Plus, a special bonus Pennypacker Hall reference, for those of you who knew me when.

Updates on my service as co-chair of Rep.-elect Mitchell's transition team are available here, here, and here. The streaming video of election night analysis on Horizon is available through this page; the transcript isn't available yet, but you can watch us discuss developing a new measurement unit for political vitriol, the Hayworth Standard Unit (as in, "That mailer was so negative, it was 8.3 Hayworths.")

They've counted about half of the outstanding ballots in Maricopa County, only about 22% of which are from District 5 (updates here), and it's affected the 6,000 vote election-day margin by all of 500 votes. So it's all over but the very tail end of the counting, but Hayworth (despite his bluster in 1996--apparently that only applies to other people, not to him) won't concede until the last vote is counted. Hopefully by then, he's very, very, very old news.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 12, 2006

How was your Election Day? As Cole Porter might have written, mine was J.D.-lightful, J.D.-licious, and J.D.-lovely.

I'm enjoying watching Republicans spend maybe 30 seconds in introspection before blaming everybody else for last Tuesday's historic loss. Moderates say the GOP needs to be more moderate, while conservatives blame insufficient conservatism. Neo-conservatives call intervening in the Terry Schiavo case was a huge liability, while theo-cons say they didn't invent the neo-cons' Iraq quagmire.

Nobody likes Dennis Hastert anymore, and if Bill Frist hadn't retired, he'd be even less popular than Trent Lott. And if Karl Rove is such a genius, why were resources sent into Senate races in Michigan, New Jersey, and Maryland that might have made the difference in Montana or Virginia?

Candidates fault the Bush administration for a deeply unpopular and failed war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration anonymously blames the candidates for not going negative enough -- like you really needed to see more negative ads -- and for not sticking up for the administration's deeply unpopular and failed war in Iraq.

How many defeated Republicans watched Bush fire Rumsfeld the day after, wondering why that didn't happen months ago, when it might have helped? Contributors to soon-to-be-ex-Representative Hayworth, watching him affect an air of reasonableness and humility while waiting for all of the votes to be counted, must wonder why he didn't try that particular act during the campaign.

Some Republicans blame the other daily newspaper's endorsement of Harry Mitchell with Hayworth's historic loss. They're outraged! Hayworth, a bully? Who ever could think that?

Who? The Tribune for starters, which called Hayworth "bombastic," "boorish," and "an affront to his colleagues, an embarrassment for Arizona." (That was in 1996, before the editorial page went to libertarian re-education camp and joined the crusade to eliminate taxes on inherited wealth faced by, for example, the current owners of this newspaper.)

The National Republican Campaign Committee doesn't blame editorials; they've called Hayworth's defeat "self-inflicted." The NRCC isn't waiting for the counting of the last vote -- and ten years ago, neither did Hayworth.

In 1996, Hayworth's margin the morning after the election was only 590 votes. Hayworth declared victory anyway, not waiting for his opponent's concession, and spent the days needed to finish counting absentee and provisional ballots complaining loudly about any delay in confirming his victory.

While Hayworth admitted it was "theoretically not impossible" for his opponent to make up the difference, he said it was "so highly unlikely as to be akin to saying that the sun will not rise tomorrow morning." Mitchell's margin may shrink some in the final count, but he starts out with ten times the spread Hayworth had when he vociferously demanded that Steve Owens, his 1996 opponent, concede immediately.

Patiently counting every last vote wasn't important in 1996, because it wouldn't benefit Hayworth. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, so J.D. insists we wait until no possible combination of sunspots, Ouija boards, and incense could reverse the voters' judgment that after 12 years of Hayworth's ABC's (Abramoff, Bombast, and Corruption), enough was enough.

Residents of District 5 are lucky, however, because Harry Mitchell is now the most popular Democrat in Washington. In abject gratitude, the new Democratic majority will let Harry write his own ticket -- committee assignments, leadership opportunities -- as his reward for defeating America's Most Obnoxious Congressman.

There's a historic precedent, too. In 1980, GOP Rep. John LeBoutillier (not merely a college classmate, we lived in the same freshman dorm) got elected to the House, and decided to be as insufferable as possible to then-Speaker Tip O'Neill (calling him "big, fat, and out of control" -- like the federal government.) Two years later, Democrat Bob Mrazek defeated LeBoutillier, and O'Neill's gratitude made Mrazek not just a faceless backbencher, but a member of the Appropriations Committee as a freshman.

Harry Mitchell is 66, and he's already done more for his community than a dozen other people. But as long as he still wants to serve, he'll have some very grateful friends in Washington -- in the majority, too -- to help him do a very good job.

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