Rep. Ryan’s effort to lead House Democrats more bark than bite


On the side

With the election in the rearview mirror, that means one thing for the state Legislature – it’s duck season. Lame duck season to be precise.

This is when legislators rush through a series of bills that have either been sitting around doing nothing for a long time or come up with “brilliant ideas” that get approved with only a select few having any input in the process. And every two years it’s the same thing.

One legislator, state Rep. Terry Boose, a Republican from Norwalk, is trying to put an end to it. Boose introduced a bill about six months ago to end lame duck sessions in even years. There was a hearing on it Thursday.

It’s Boose’s last month of his last term in the Ohio House and the bill will go nowhere, but at least he tried.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s bid to be House minority leader was a curious political move.

When he officially got in the race on Nov. 17 – he was essentially a candidate about five days earlier but was still gauging support – he was a huge longshot to beat Nancy Pelosi, who’s been the Democratic leader in the House for 13 years.

While Ryan of Howland, D-13th, talked a big game before the vote about being “within striking distance,” the end result was Pelosi won 134 to 63.

Pelosi said when Ryan got in the race that she had two-thirds of the support of the House Democrats. She did a little better than that with 68 percent of the vote.

Pelosi knows how to count and how to whip votes.

As Ryan acknowledged after his defeat, this is Pelosi’s caucus and she has a lot of friends and allies in it.

This is not to imply that Ryan embarrassed himself.

He got 63 votes, 32 percent of the caucus, meaning there are a number of members who want a change – not enough to oust Pelosi, but enough to have her make some moves.

Because of Ryan’s challenge, Pelosi was forced to make a number of changes to include more members, particularly those with less seniority, in leadership and have the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman position elected by the caucus instead of appointed by the leader. However, the top three House leaders are in their mid-70s and are on the coasts – two issues Ryan and his allies had when he decided to run for minority leader.

“The only way we will move forward as a party is to continue to tap into the enormous talent and creativity of our entire caucus and speak with a unified economic message that resonates with every American,” Ryan said. “These reforms are an important first step and I will continue to work with Leader Pelosi and my colleagues to find ways to further strengthen and democratize our caucus.”

But the Midwest is still under-represented in House Democratic leadership and the number of Democrats from that area continues to dwindle as the party goes off on tangents rather than focusing on gaining back the support of working people from middle America who voted for Republican Donald Trump in his successful presidential bid.

So why did Ryan run for leader?

Ryan says he did so because of the record number of losses of Democrats in the House since the 2010 election.

The Nov. 8 election “taught us that change was necessary,” Ryan said. “Our party’s losses showed our caucus that we needed to have a serious conversation about our path forward and open the door for new reforms and voices” in leadership.

“I have been having issues since 2010,” he added. “I bit my tongue in 2012 and 2014 and 2016. Here we are as Democrats – we got slaughtered across the country. I’m not going to bite my tongue anymore.”

The bid raised Ryan’s profile nationally.

He was all over the TV network and cable news shows, and in numerous national publications and leading political websites in the two weeks of his campaign for Democratic leader.

His office had a mobile van with a Youngstown skyline in the back that was used for numerous interviews.

Ryan’s been on TV before and profiled, but not to this level.

Ryan is now licking his wounds, as he said Wednesday, and back to being just another House member.

The only difference between now and two weeks ago is Pelosi went from being Ryan’s political mentor to the guy who dared to challenge and question her authority.

Pelosi has a long memory when it comes to those who’ve challenged her before and for those opponents, none had happy political careers.

After the vote, Ryan was insistent that Pelosi wouldn’t punish him for his bid to defeat her for Democratic leader.

“Having 63 people vote for me will make it very, very difficult for her to have any retribution at all,” he said. “A lot of people would be very, very offended by that because whether or not they voted for me, there were a lot of people who wanted to have the conversation that I forced us to have.”

What’s interesting is it was a secret ballot so there really wasn’t any fear of retribution against members who voted against Pelosi, except for the dozen who did so publicly.

With so few members, Pelosi would be foolish to punish those who opposed her, but could try to make an example of Ryan. Though, honestly, what could she possibly do besides take him off of Appropriations and put him on a lousy committee? (Ryan also serves on Budget, but that was a temporary stint that expires at the end of the month.)

Some contend Ryan ran for House leader so he would become better known for a 2018 gubernatorial run.

But those who’ve followed Ryan’s political career know that he has flirted with running for governor and U.S. senator before and opted to remain in Congress.

I don’t see how losing to Pelosi in 2016 is going to help Ryan win the gubernatorial race in 2018. However, we shouldn’t dismiss that as a part of a somewhat strange strategy.

There are a number of Democrats, including state Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, looking at running for governor in 2018. Except for Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and treasurer, the rest of the pack has very little name ID.

A bid for governor is certainly a possibility for Ryan in 2018. It will largely depend on the political climate.

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