On the heels of a major restructuring aimed at reviving the organization, the House New Democrat Coalition decided Wednesday to shake up its leadership for the 109th Congress and bring in a new chairman to chart the group’s course.
The centrist NDC selected Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) to serve as the leader of the reorganized group. Tauscher doesn’t replace any one leader, since there were three co-equal chairmen in the 108th Congress, but now becomes the most prominent face of the organization.
Also elected with Tauscher were Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.) as policy chairman and Artur Davis (Ala.) as communications chairman. The group also chose Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) to serve as chairman of the New Democrat’s newly formed political action committee.
Kind and Smith had served as co-chairmen during the previous Congress. Rep. Jim Davis (Fla.) was the third chairman.
After winning the chairmanship on a voice vote, Tauscher proclaimed it a fresh start for the New Democrats, noting that the once-prominent centrist group will work to regain its voice and influence in the next Congress. She said it is fitting to add new leadership to the group at a time when it is working to “revitalize, refocus and rebuild.”
Smith agreed, saying: “It is critically important that we have new people involved. It adds new energy — I think it will really help us.”
The New Democrats have been relatively silent in recent years, struggling to tap into a role following the like-minded Clinton administration. The New Democrats formed in 1997 and considered Clinton an ideological ally, with whom they promoted their founding agenda of free trade, education and technology.
But since the end of the Clinton era, the New Democrats have been struggling to find their way. Leaders say they hope their new structure will strengthen the group’s stature by promoting and electing centrist Democrats and better promoting an agenda in Congress that focuses on economic growth and national security.
“Our plan is to work on many different policy issues, but we also need to rehabilitate our brand,” Tauscher said.
Tauscher, a five-term lawmaker who said she decided to run at the urging of Members and others sympathetic to the NDC, said the New Democrats recognize they must change the way they operate, given that the Republicans hold a majority in both the Congress and White House. But she said even though the GOP pays little mind to the Democrats, it “doesn’t mean we’re not relevant and that we don’t have something to say.”
“If the majority is not interested in working with us, we still have an obligation to make sure that our constituents and Democratic independents and swing voters know what we are for,” she said.
“The realization has come in that we don’t have the Kerry administration,” Kind said. “We have another four years of with a Republican White House in charge.”
Davis said the New Democrats plan to be more active this Congress. He noted that while it will be easier to achieve consensus, the group faces a new challenge of focusing on two to four key issues on which it can play a significant role.
“The New Democrat Coalition really has the opportunity to shape the policy and agenda within the Democratic Party,” Davis said, noting that Democrats have at times been too cautious and reflexive on issues.
“We can take the lead, and encourage others to be proactive,” he said.
The new leaders said the public and lawmakers should expect to hear a louder voice coming from the New Democrats in the coming weeks on key issues of national security, pro-growth initiatives and personal responsibility. The group also plans to engage in a serious and concerted effort to incorporate those positions into the larger Democratic and Congressional debate, they said.
“We can’t just turn the amp up,” Tauscher said.
The reorganization includes new criteria for membership, the formation of a PAC and a refocused policy agenda with a greater emphasis on national security. With some members opting not to meet the new criteria, the membership of 74 lawmakers is expected to shrink by close to half — a move that leaders hope will allow the New Democrats to better focus on issues, promote its message and unify on key policies.
Smith said he expects the group to be “smaller but more cohesive,” noting that between 30 and 40 members will likely stick with the group. Under the new structure, New Democrat members must give at least $2,000 a year to the PAC, attend 70 percent of the organization’s events and find ways to participate in message and legislative activities.