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McIntyre a dying breed in Washington
Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 9:29pm.
Mike McIntyre was clear with his answer when I asked him the question today: Did his decision to step down at the end of his current term in the US House have anything to do with pressure from Democratic Party leaders or the people who control money in Washington?
McIntyre, of course, said no. He said it was a decision he and his family made after discussions during the holidays. I'm sure the part about the family talks is true, but I'm also pretty sure that outside pressure was a big factor, and one that cannot be overlooked.
You see, McIntyre is a bit of a dinosaur in Congress, and it's likely led to his political extinction.
McIntyre is a Blue Dog. That's the name a group of self-proclaimed conservative Democrats gave themselves based on a painting of, you guessed it, a blue dog in one member's office. But that phrase has become something of an oxymoron, and McIntyre's conservative credentials have become a point of contention for Democrats and Republicans alike. Regardless, McIntyre is a centrist. Nowadays, though, that comes at great peril.
If you haven't noticed, politics has become rather polarized of late. If you're a Democrat, you're supposed to be a loyal liberal. If you're a Republican, you'd better be a hard-core conservative. Anything less, and you're likely to be considered a traitor to your party or a man without political backing.
That wasn't always the case. When I first met McIntyre in 2006 or 2007, he and the Blue Dogs had a great deal of power as swing votes. Not so much any more. Now he and others like him are very much targets dodging enemy attacks and "friendly" fire.
McIntyre is the ultimate centrist. In 2008 my wife was teaching a unit on elections to her fifth graders. She invited McIntyre to her school to give a talk on civics and politics. I met him there for an interview in my wife's classroom. As we set up I told him the background of our shot was a bulletin board divided into Republican and Democrat.
"Don't worry," I told him. "You can see 'Democrat' over your shoulder."
His response surprised me. He looked back and scooted his chair a bit.
"We have lots of friends on both sides of the aisle," he told me. "We don't want to offend anyone."
It was an elementary school classroom bulletin board, but McIntyre was always cognizant of his surroundings and the imagery; down to the giant check (yes, it was one wiped clean and reused) that became his trademark for better or worse. He never wanted to offend. He always wanted to stay in the middle, sometimes riding the fence a bit too much for some constituents. And as the end nears, it seems clear that middle ground may have become his Waterloo.
McIntyre made sure to say today he was not running from a tough race, which he was sure to face this election cycle. He pointed out the hard road to his first win in 1996 and the Tea Party movement that meant strong challenges in recent years, including his razor-thin win over Republican David Rouzer in 2012. He won that race even though Republicans in Raleigh redrew the 7th Congressional District to make it nearly impossible for McIntyre to keep the seat. Heck, they even moved the western boundary just east of McIntyre's neighborhood in Lumberton.
That win cost a lot for a lot of people. McIntyre's once healthy campaign war chest certainly took a hit. Meanwhile millions of dollars of so-called issue money flowed into WWAY and other TV and radio stations in the region as liberal and conservative groups fought for and against McIntyre and Rouzer.
This year, assuming McIntyre survived Jonathan Barfield's primary challenge, would likely have been a replay, as Republicans again took aim at the vulnerable nine-time incumbent. The difference this time around, though, was likely going to be markedly lower level of support for McIntyre. Surely liberals must be questioning whether all that money on the 2012 win came with a good return on investment considering McIntyre has publicly railed against Obamacare, which he did not vote for, and did all he could not to let stick claims he walked lockstep with Nancy Pelosi.
Political website The Hill reports McIntyre's fundraising numbers for this year were lagging, along with the number of Blue Dogs left in Congress, down from 54 to 15 since 2010. Centrist Republicans are also leaving the House, The Hill says. In other words, in a place that could really use a dose of bipartisan cooperation, the people perhaps most likely to bridge the aisle are waving the white flag. And don't think that doesn't come with consequences.
At any rate, whether you like him or hate him, we're nearing the end of the road for our longtime Congressman. It will give plenty of people a chance at reflection, so here's mine.
During a visit to Washington in March 2009 to get an inside look at our Congressional delegation, I spent part of a day with McIntyre. Again, imagery was the key for him. Conveniently, the night before our visit, he got a call that he would preside over the House during our scheduled time together. McIntyre made sure, despite there being only a few people on board, that we rode in the member's car of the subway between the House office building and the Capitol. While the gallery was all but empty, he insisted I had a seat, all by myself, in the member's section, as he took the gavel for a quick session of the House with just a few minutes of action.
But what stands out most was a moment in the lobby of a House office building. It was there, McIntyre told me, that his journey to Washington had begun as a high school student. He had come as part of an educational program and wound up in the back of a committee room during a hearing on Watergate. As the greatest political scandal of the 20th century swirled all around, it was then, he said, that he decided one day he'd like to be in Congress, because he wanted to do it for all the right reasons, which seemed to be slipping away from too many leaders of the time, including the president.
When I reminded him of that conversation today, I asked McIntyre if he'd served the right way. He said he had. He said he was proud of his record and the lives made better by his work.
Some of you may agree. Others may not. Either way, I think it's unfortunate that you won't get to decide, as you should, with your votes how he's been doing his job recently and if he should continue. Instead, regardless of the conversations the McIntyres had over Christmas, it seems all too clear to me that the money and power of the often faceless elite have decided for all of us how it will end; more oligarchy than democracy for sure.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo