Like a sort of political Willy Loman, Brian Baird has announced his decision not to seek re-election to the US House of Representatives. Willy sacrificed himself so that Biff could collect on Willy’s life insurance policy; Baird steps out of the way so that another candidate can turn near certain defeat in WA-03 into a toss-up. It remains to be seen if Baird’s retirement has implications for the Democratic Party, but NRCC Chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX), thinks it may.
The retirement of Brian Baird should send an alarming message to the Democratic Party on two fronts. First, it speaks to the shifting political environment that has led another multi-term Democrat to opt for retirement rather than face the oncoming political headwind. Secondly, Brian Baird was an advocate for openness and transparency within the legislative process, who co-authored bipartisan legislation that would require all major bills be posted online for at least 72 hours. The conduct of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not only shut the American people out of the process, but it has led to the erosion of her party’s political footing, leaving a number of incumbent Democrats vulnerable to Republican challenges.
With this being the third retirement by a swing-district Democrat in as many weeks, it is clear that members of the Majority are feeling the ground shaking beneath them. As the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high and Democrats continue on with their out-of-touch agenda, independent voters are rightfully fleeing the Democratic Party. Now, facing an angry and frustrated electorate, Democrats are quickly realizing that it’s time to throw in the towel.
On the Republican side, 18th District State Representative Jaime Herrera announced yesterday that she would seek Baird’s seat; today, 18th District State Rep, Deb Wallace, a Democrat, entered the race. Three additional Republicans had entered the race before Baird’s exit, Jon Russel, David Castillo and David Hedrick.
Baird’s political suicide was a long, ugly process.
Aug. 6 – 7:
Brian Baird shows his constituents how out-of-touch he really is and how much disdain he holds for them as he angrily name-calls them:
A Lynch Mob: “It’s a lynch-mob mentality out there,” Baird said. “There is an ugliness to it.” Baird is no stranger to town hall protests, having faced left-wing opposition to his support for the surge of additional troops into Iraq during the Bush administration. But he said protests have reached a ‘dangerous’ new level.” (Les Blumenthal, “Baird to skip town hall ‘lynch’ mentality,” The Olympian, 08/06/09)
Nazis: “‘What we’re seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics,’ Baird, D-Vancouver, said in a phone interview. “I mean that very seriously. There is this national movement in blogs and on the Internet to go to town hall meetings solely to attack people,” Baird said.” (Michael Andersen, “Baird fears foes may plan ‘ambush’,” Columbian, 08/06/09)
Timothy McVeigh: “But Baird said a “coordinated national effort” to disrupt public meetings with shouts and demonstrations, which he said Republican leaders were “egging on,” was reminiscent of the kinds of things that drove Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. “He believed himself to be a patriot fighting against an oppressive government,” Baird said of McVeigh, whose act killed 168.” (Michael Andersen, “Baird draws heavy criticism,” Columbian, 08/06/09)
Extremists: “There is this national movement in blogs and on the Internet to go to town hall meetings solely to attack people and intentionally disrupt the ability to have a real discussion,” Baird said in a Wednesday telephone interview. “It’s not troubling to me personally; I’ve certainly been to tough town hall meetings in my time. But it’s troubling to those who come with the intent to have serious discussions but get badgered by disruptive tactics, where the sole purpose is to give extremists the chance to shout and make YouTube videos.” (Columbian Editorial, “Kitchen Too Hot?”, 8/07/09)
One of Brian Baird’s local papers writes a scathing editorial on the negative backlash he received from constituents and the way he merely surrendered:
“Brian Baird’s decision not to hold regular town hall meetings during a time when his constituents need them most is baffling and misguided. It looks more like surrender, or retreat, no matter how he tries to paint it as some kind of devotion to decorum…But who says his critics won’t be even more infuriated a few months from now, especially now that he’s aggravated them further by denying them public hearings?…He must know that, as tensions rise, as the rhetoric becomes more bombastic and as the volume soars, the best leaders will meet the challenge, not avoid it. (Columbian Editorial, “Kitchen Too Hot?: Baird takes wrong approach on town hall meetings, 08/07/09)
Another one of Baird’s local papers editorializes that his decision to not meet with his constituents during the recess would cost him his job:
“Rep. Brian Baird is taking a calculated political risk that voters in the 3rd District will accept his decision not to conduct in-person town hall-type meetings on health care reform during the monthlong summer recess by Congress.
“At the same time, Baird has to be careful not to isolate himself from his constituents, including the many people who, just like Baird, have legitimate questions and concerns about health care reform and what shape it should take.” (The Olympian Editorial, “Baird’s decision will linger long after news cycle,” 08/12/09)
Realizing that August didn’t go too well for his reelection campaign, Cook Report brings Baird’s chances of reelection down a notch:
“WASHINGTON | District 3: Solid Democrat to Likely Democrat (9/03/09)”
Politico calls Brian Baird a “casualty of the August recess:”
“While it’s not yet clear what the tumult of the August recess means for health care reform, the raucous town halls and intense media scrutiny have clouded the election prospects of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. But after nearly a month back home, some members will be returning to Congress with noticeable scars, and their experiences will surely color their approach over the coming weeks. [On] POLITICO’s list of recess casualties, members who took significant flak and who need to proceed cautiously to minimize the damage done to their political fortunes:
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.)
Earlier this month, Baird told the Vancouver Columbian that he wasn’t going to be appearing at town hall meetings because he thought protesters were using “brownshirt tactics” to disrupt events. His plan was to hold tele-town-halls instead. Naturally, the Nazi reference didn’t go over very well. Then Baird stepped in it again when he said the protesters’ demonstrations were reminiscent of the anger that led Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to perpetrate domestic terrorism. The approach was somewhat out of character for Baird — if anything, he’s known for regularly hosting town hall meetings back home during recess. But the result was that the congressman was forced on the defensive. He apologized for his remarks and subsequently scheduled public town hall meetings, but it hasn’t been enough to mollify his critics. A Marine who confronted Baird at a town hall has become a conservative celebrity, and radio host Rush Limbaugh played the clip of the confrontation on his radio show. The wave of bad publicity isn’t likely to threaten Baird’s reelection chances — he hasn’t faced a tough challenge in nearly a decade — but his seat isn’t so safe that it’s of no concern. The Olympia-based district has supported Republicans in the past — including former President George W. Bush, who carried the district in 2000 and 2004. (Josh Kraushaar, “The August recess casualty list,” Politico, 09/01/09)
Realizing that he is in trouble, Baird decides to vote against the Democrat’s government-run healthcare plan and hopes it helps him politically. (HRC# 887)
Brian Baird’s finger-in-the-wind approach appears to backfire on him as he is one of 39 “no” votes to create a Democrat civil war:
“In a tribe that does not tolerate any dissent from the party line, the gang of 39 had committed an unpardonable and unforgivable sin: They voted no on the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s domestic agenda. When they returned home to gauge their district’s reaction, they were greeted with a vendetta of e-mails, phone calls and crowds of protesters.
“But mounting attacks on these Democrats, from their party’s left, sends a threatening signal that they could lose much of their base in next year’s elections, improving the Republican Party’s chances of picking up a number of seats that they lost in recent elections.” (Donald Lambro, “Split over health care bill,” Washington Times, 11/19/09)
It’s ironic and rather sad that Baird’s political curtain call was prompted by a courageous decision to break with the Democrats and vote against the House health care reform bill. Sad, too, that voting in line with the wishes of his constituents, as best he understood them, would be seen by far left Democrats as an intolerable act of defiance, calling for punishment.
It’s unknown if Baird’s sacrifice is self-motivated or if he’s been forced aside by the party.
(Timeline courtesy of the NRCC)