Colin Byrd is one of us, a young and dynamic progressive who was, in 2019, elected mayor of Greenbelt, Maryland in Prince George's County. A commuter suburb northeast of DC, it is part of Maryland's 5th congressional district, represented-- at least in theory-- by Steny Hoyer. MD-05 is deep blue with a PVI of D+16. Trump's share of the vote in the district decreased from 32.1% in 2016 to 29.1% this year. The winner of the Democratic primary goes to Congress. Hoyer, generally considered K Street's Congressman, was first elected in a 1981 special election after Gladys Spellman became comatose after a heart attack. It was an unfortunate situation of a progressive being replaced by a crooked conservative. In 2022, Hoyer will have to defend his execrable record in a primary with Colin Byrd.
Over the weekend, I asked Byrd his thoughts on the State of the Nation appearance by fellow progressives Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. He told me he "would support withholding a vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker until she commits to allowing floor votes on Medicare for All, reparations, and a federal jobs guarantee. I'd also demand a floor vote on other issues, like paying college athletes. Notwithstanding that, I also agree with Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman that, in making such decisions, it is good for them to listen to and organize with their respective communities in St. Louis and New York. As a Black Marylander who literally helped dedicate a statue of Frederick Douglass at the University of Maryland and helped successfully push for a statue of Douglass at the State House, I am especially mindful of his statement that "Power concedes nothing without a demand." But I think House progressives run the risk of appearing impractical and detrimental to both the Democratic Party and the United States as a whole if, as they oppose Pelosi, they don't find, offer, and rationally discuss a specific, viable, more progressive alternative to her. A great example might be somebody like Barbara Lee (if she's even interested and willing)."
But Pelosi isn't necessarily at the top of his mind and priority list and he said that he "doesn't think House progressives should singularly focus on Pelosi. Among members of House Democratic Leadership, Steny Hoyer is significantly more conservative than Pelosi, and he is significantly less representative of and less supportive of the Democratic Party's purported commitment to diversity. As Majority Leader, he also has significant control over House Democrats' legislative priorities and floor votes. Technically, Steny is 'next in line' to become Speaker, and House progressives-- and the U.S. as a whole-- would be far worse off with Steny Hoyer as Speaker. Unlike Pelosi, Obama, and John Lewis, Steny Hoyer supported the Iraq War, and he ascended to House Leadership primarily with the support of the most conservative House Democrats. Granted, since I'm literally running against Steny for Congress, I'm biased, but I still think virtually all progressives would agree that Steny becoming Speaker would be a disaster and worse than Pelosi remaining speaker."
Mayors tend to be practical people; the garbage has to be collected, streets must be plowed when it snows and homeless people need to be sheltered, regardless of political ideology. Byrd noted that "One of the biggest challenges that House progressives face is the idea that they are extremely idealistic and impractical, so I believe that, if they further discuss not voting for Pelosi, they should also think through and communicate how they would resolve all of the related practical issues. Saying 'I'm not going to vote for Pelosi' without considering and conveying how to resolve all of the practical implications of that decision could remind many Democrats of the handful of Bernie supporters in 2016 who vowed they would, no matter the consequences, not vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. I'm a strong Bernie supporter. I was even a Bernie delegate in 2016, but, in the 2016 general election, I strongly supported Hillary Clinton without hesitation. I love Bernie and Bernie supporters. But I know that some Bernie supporters were willing to roll the dice in the 2016 general election because they decided their differences with Hillary Clinton were far more important than keeping Donald Trump out of the White House. Many people are, to this day, very angry about that and, as a result, (rightly or wrongly) associate progressives with impracticality and ideological rigidity."
As for Byrd personally, he told me he thought Hillary was "an imperfect candidate. But I felt she had some pluses and was the only viable alternative to Trump in the general election, and I supported her in the general election on that basis and because Bernie didn't have the votes to emerge victorious from the primary. If House progressives don't have the votes to replace Pelosi, they can still try to force floor votes, but it is even more important for them to promptly focus on helping elect more progressives across the country so that that they 1) will be in a position to have a more progressive House Democrat be very viable as a candidate for House Speaker; and 2) will have floor votes on progressive bills that have a higher chance of passing, rather than just have show votes on such bills."
Texas progressive Julie Oliver didn't win her race against reactionary Republican Roger Williams, who, predictably, voted against survival checks. This morning, Julie is very much on the same page as Colin Byrd. She told us that "Ultimately, the seats in Congress do not belong to the people who occupy them-- representatives' jobs are to know their district, know their people, and carry that with them as they serve. Part of the reason I'm so encouraged that both Reps Bowman and Bush were elected is that they're part of a movement to ensure that Congress is no longer serving corporate oligarchs, and that our policy reflects the needs of everyday people in this country. We badly need more of that kind of leadership across the board."