This morning's Democratic retirement story at Politico by Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris doesn't mention senility or even that of the 62 members of the House over 70, 47 are Democrats. Nor that because Pelosi has enforced an absurd, outdated and dysfunctional seniority system, Democratic leadership has proven to be incapable of effective 21st Century leadership. Of the 12 members 80 or above, all but 2 are Democrats-- and that includes the Democrats' 3 top leaders, Hoyer (82), Pelosi (81) and Clyburn (81 next month). Their Politico piece refers to a different Democratic Party retirement problem-- but that is their-- and our-- retirement problem. Too many politicians define themselves-- and their self-worth-- in terms of their jobs and fear moving on to the next phase of life. That's a tragedy, for them personally-- and for the party and the body politic.
You know the old saw about how young people can run faster but that old people know the shortcuts? Cute, but it doesn't change the fact that people in their 70s start losing their memory and that accelerates as they get older, as does propensity towards serious illness. On Friday, Marc Caputo, also writing for Politico, noted that Democrats are stressing over aging members including some who are infirm and who refuse to step down.
When Alcee Hastings-- who had been functionally dead all year-- finally kicked the bucket in April (age 84), Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was able to manipulate the system to prevent the heavily black/heavily Democratic district from replacing him, thus making the Democratic majority in the House more precarious. One younger Democrat running for his seat told Caputo that "The older generation does not want to pass the baton. You don’t have to die in your seat. Pass the baton on... I want to make sure that I’m not stepping into ageism, but we have a bench problem. We have so many good young elected officials, but they’re on the bench."
The issue has taken on an increased urgency given the party’s tenuous hold on Congress. The loss of just one Democrat would tip the balance of power in the Senate, which has heightened scrutiny of its oldest member, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has faced recent questions about her fitness for office. She turned 88 on Tuesday. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy-- now 81 and running for reelection to his ninth term-- had a brief hospital scare in January that alarmed activists.
“It was one of the few wake-up calls: Holy shit, we are one stroke or car wreck or Me Too scandal from not having a Senate majority,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy for the liberal think tank Data for Progress. “It is the thinnest majority you can have.”
Democrats have a slightly larger margin in the House, but that advantage has been whittled down in recent months by Hastings’ death and other departures.
That’s led to mounting frustration with the old guard, as well as a feeling of dread that the party is just a heartbeat away from losing control of at least one chamber of Congress.
Progressive activists like NoiseCat are increasingly concerned that issues important to Generation Z and millennial voters-- such as climate change, voting rights and criminal justice reform-- are stalled in the hidebound Senate, where the lack of action could depress turnout next year and flip control of one or both chambers of Congress.
“There’s a generation of young progressives energized by politics, and a big question in front of the Democratic Party in terms of its ability to channel that energy is whether or not they can deliver on issues that matter to young people,” NoiseCat said.
...In 2018, then-state Sen. Kevin de León, 54, unsuccessfully challenged [Dianne Feinstein, disturbingly senile] from the left in California, saying it was time for a change. But the powerful senator still managed to hold on to win a fifth term.
“There is always going to be an expiration date on the value of seniority,” de León, now a Los Angeles City Council member, told Politico. “Instead of holding power hostage to our very last days, let’s use every ounce of it to help the next generation cut a path to strong leadership both within our party, and in the halls of power.”
In Florida, Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, 42, had the same idea when she unsuccessfully challenged Hastings in 2018 and 2020.
Cherfilus-McCormick said she respected Hastings, a beloved figure in the Black community who was first elected to Congress in 1992. But she challenged him because she said he wasn’t delivering for the district and “we can’t sacrifice the community based on the fact that someone’s an icon.”
With Hastings’ death, Cherfilus-McCormick is now running in what promises to be a crowded primary to succeed him-- a stark contrast to her two previous solo bids against Hastings.
“They’re jumping in because they believe it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, because the assumption is that you stay there until you pass. That’s something we have to deal with and confront head on,” she said. “What we have to deal with as a party is taking succession-planning seriously.”
But that isn't what Mutnick and Ferris were dealing with this morning. The Democrats' retirement problem they have in mind is Democrats who want to retire and who are being held back from doing so by the party because retirements put seats in jeopardy. Many of these Dems are looking to run for Senate but represent swing House districts, including conservatives eager to be the next Kyrsten Sinema, like Pennsylvania status quo careerists Conor Lamb and Madeleine Dean and Stephanie Murphy (who became Blue Dog chair after Schumer put Sinema, the former Blue Dog chair, into the Senate). Murphy and Dean were talked out of it. Lamb is raising money for a Senate race and seems impervious to Democratic pleading that his House seat would likely be lost if he moves on and that he's not likely to win the Senate race either.
So far-- and not counting Lamb-- 6 House Democrats have announced they're leaving-- Senate candidates Val Demings (FL) and Tim Ryan (OH) plus gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (FL), as well as alcoholic Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) and wannabe lobbyist Filemón Vela (TX)-- and no one doubts more will leave after the next round of gerrymanders, especially in Texas and Florida.