May 19, 2006
Interview with Henry Cuellar

Vince scores a nice coup by getting an interview with US Rep. Henry Cuellar, who was unsuccessfully targeted in the March primary by many netroots activists, myself included. It's a good read, and I join Vince in coming away from it with more respect for the man, though I'd still rather have Ciro Rodriguez in his seat.

Having said that, this is a very good point:

CAPITOL ANNEX: Congressman, as you no doubt recall, your primary election this spring was one that was a very big race for the blogs, both Texas and nationally. You were the subject of a lot of criticism, some of it was harsh. Did you ever wake up in the morning and think, ‘what did I do to these people,’ or ‘what did I do to deserve this?’

CONGRESSMAN CUELLAR: You know, all of them [the bloggers] had their opinions, and I respect them. I wish that some [bloggers] had given more consideration to my record at the state level. There were a lot of issues of importance that I took the lead on iat the state level: the Texas Plan which was a college funding program, I was the author of the first CHIP program which became the model for the whole state, the Colonias. If you go to my campaign web page,, you can see some of that and that I took the lead on a lot of issues that were important to them. I was very active [as a legislator].

I try to do the same here [in Congress], and this is my first term, but I’ve passed ten amendments out from the House floor to the Senate. That is very uncommon. I’m in first place with the rest of my freshman class, in second place among all 202 Democrats, and in fourth place among all the congress [in terms of amendments passed by the House and sent on the Senate].

It is very different here in Congress than it was in the Texas Legislature. I am a Democrat and will always stay a Democrat, but I am a big believer in bi-partisanship. Bi-partisanship is a big ting in the capitol [Austin], but when you come up here [Washington, D.C.], it’s a different story. There are more situations where, as a Democrat, you are expected to vote a certian way with Democrats.

I came up here after having had all of my training at the state level, where Democrats like Bill Hobby - a strong Democrat - Lloyd Bentsen, and Bob Bullock were all a big part of that. Bullock was a big believer in bi-partisanship. But, when you come up here, you are expected to follow the party line whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, it’s a big difference.

I came in and tried to keep my bi-partisanship. To me, my district will always come first, and party second even though a lot of the times we are expected to follow the party line even when that might not be the best thing for your district.

I wish some of them [bloggers] had called me and asked me about my record and some of this.

Cuellar's right about this: The greater netroots community should have reached out to him and tried to get his side of things before the primary, or at least before we all made this race such a priority. Once that infamous Bush-hug picture came out, that was that. I'm as guilty as anyone of this. This is not to say that we would have liked or agreed with whatever answers he might have given to whatever questions about his record in Congress we might have asked, and it's not to say that we'd have turned our attention elsewhere if we'd bothered to ask. The point is that we should have bothered to ask. Next time I will try to do better on this point.

Now then. Cuellar's record in the State House, at least the parts of it that he highlights here, sounds good enough. But that's for his resume in the 2004 primary, not the 2006 version. If Zell Miller had decided to stay in the Senate and had gotten challenged by another Democrat in 2004, his generally good record as Governor of Georgia would have rightly carried no weight with any voter that was ready for a change. As the incumbent, what matters is his record in that office. If his next term in Congress looks more like that State House tenure he described, the 2008 primary will be much more tranquil for him.

Further, while Rep. Cuellar clearly values bipartisanship, I say it's a means to an end and not an end unto itself. Bipartisanship in the name of passing good legislation is a worthy thing. Bipartisanship for its own sake is meaningless. To me at least, results speak louder than appearances. In this case, what got blogger blood boiling was crossing party lines to vote for things that we believe are bad, such as the bankruptcy bill. Maybe there was a good reason for that vote - to get back to point #1, we should have asked what it was - but if you believe it was a bad bill, then being bipartisan on it is a demerit, not a boon.

Frankly, I think the reason why the concept of "bipartisanship" is revered by a certain segment of the pundit class (*cough* David Broder *cough*) is an artifact of Congress from the era when Democrats had 250+ seats in the House. Back then, the alignment was not Dem versus Rep but Liberal versus Conservative, with members from each party on each side. Or North versus South, for that matter - your average Northern Republican (think Connie Morella or Jacob Javits) was far more liberal than your average Southern Democrat (think Charlie Stenholm or Phil Gramm, who switched parties in the 1980s). Nowadays, ideology is much more in line with party membership, at least inside Congress. Whether that's a positive development or not is certainly open to debate, but let's at least recognize why "bipartisanship" isn't what it used to be.

Anyway. As I said, I respect Rep. Cuellar for taking the time to talk to Vince. I'll keep an open mind for 2008, but I'll definitely be watching to see how Cuellar does in the next term.

UPDATE: Stace adds his thoughts.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 19, 2006 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack