Why Democratic Candidates Shouldn’t All Be Fresh Faces
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Democrats are fielding a remarkable contingent of young challengers for seats in the House of Representatives this fall. More than a third of the party's strongest candidates to replace Republicans are under 40.
That's one reason I hope that 77-year-old Donna Shalala wins a competitive Democratic primary in Miami next week. She'd balance the almost-certain infusion of refreshing young talent with some seasoning.
Shalala was President Bill Clinton's Health and Human Services Secretary, and earlier served in the administration of President Jimmy Carter and ran several universities. Under her leadership from 2001 to 2015, the University of Miami grew from a decent institution into a really good one.
She's being challenged from the left in the Aug. 28 primary by David Richardson, a state legislator, for not embracing impeachment of President Donald Trump. Richardson also was endorsed by the Miami Herald in an editorial that didn't mention Shalala's age but pointedly noted that he could be "an enduring advocate" for Miami voters (he's 61). The incumbent Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is retiring and Democrats are heavily favored to win the seat in November.
A major reason I believe Democrats will send as many as 50 new members to the House, almost two-thirds taking Republican-held seats, is that so many of their candidates aren't the usual state legislators or career officials. They're armed with impressive resumes and have displayed the skills, so far, to avoid major mistakes.
It's a diverse lot: Aftab Pureval of Cincinnati, Ohio, a 35-year-old son of immigrants from India and a former prosecutor and counsel at Procter & Gamble; Colin Allred, a 35-year-old Dallas civil rights lawyer and former Tennessee Titans linebacker; Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, a 38-year-old former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency; Dan McCready, in Charlotte, North Carolina, a 34-year-old ex-Marine, Iraq war veteran, Harvard Business School graduate and entrepreneur who launched 36 solar energy projects for North Carolina farms.
With a large number of women and veterans running, this new blood will be energizing for a Democratic caucus that looks old. With Trump still in office, achievements will be minimal, but these dozens of newcomers will help shape the tone and agenda of the not-so-loyal opposition.
With uncertainty over the next House leadership — more than a few of these challengers have vowed not to support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for Speaker even though the Californian could probably protect their political interests better than any alternative — some voices of experience will be necessary.
Under Trump, many of the old rules no longer apply. But some do: the way bureaucracies work, the laws of unintended consequences and value of patience when passions of the moment strike. No matter how bright, newcomers don't usually master these complexities quickly.
Shalala has been there and done that. She lasted the entire eight turbulent years of the Clinton administration. On big issues like health care and higher education she'd bring a wealth of knowledge.
Although it may be a diminishing asset, she also knows how to work with Republicans. As president of the University of Miami, she effectively courted business leaders and Republican donors. After the 2007 scandal of mistreated veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she and former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas ran an investigation that resulted in sweeping changes. She was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by a Republican president, George W. Bush.
There are legitimate criticisms of her candidacy beyond age, including athletic scandals at Miami that involved misdeeds during her tenure. Richardson has charged that she was too passive on sexual abuse cases. Health-care reform floundered during the Clinton administration.
But these shortcomings are outweighed by Shalala's governmental and educational accomplishments. If successful, she may only serve a few terms, but there are good role models demonstrating the value that former top executive-branch officials can add to the House. Dick Cheney went from chief of staff for President Gerald Ford to a Wyoming House seat in 1979 and became a major congressional force. Rahm Emanuel was a senior adviser to Clinton before winning an Illinois House seat in 2002 and rising to leadership positions.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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