One of the great political stories from the 2008 campaign year (other than the obvious) was an election that took place in the Maryland suburbs around Washington, D.C. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), a true progressive and community activist took out then-Rep. Albert Wynn, an eight-term incumbent who had become a model of the very modern corporate Democrat.
Now Edwards herself is facing a primary, not for any good reason, but because a couple of guys think they should be in Congress. These ambitious pols are saying, in effect, "Thanks for doing the hard, dirty work of taking on Al Wynn, little lady. Now step aside."
When Edwards took on Wynn, there was a clear difference of philosophy and approach. She was, and is, a populist progressive. She didn't come up through the ritual ladder of Prince George's County politics. She was a community activist (and that's a good thing), who launched a long-shot challenge to Wynn in 2006, and came oh-so-close to beating him without any real campaign organization.
Wynn, on the other hand, was a typical good ol' boy for Prince George's County, the richest African-American county in the country. He was a local lawyer. He served in the state legislature for ten years, four in the General Assembly and six in the State Senate until 1993. Then it was time to move up to Congress, where he found a home in the Congressional Black Caucus. It was all orderly and acceptable. He should have had a home for life and would have except for Edwards and a redistricting after the 2000 elections which gave Wynn some new territory in neighboring Montgomery County. Think of the 4th Congressional district as a thick horse shoe on its side open to the left. The space in the middle is Washington, D.C. The top half is Montgomery County, the bottom half is Prince George's County. The top half starts out mostly white and suburban, becomes more urban and racially mixed toward the middle, while the bottom half -- Prince George's County -- is majority African American.
To some people, Edwards' close loss in 2006 was a reason to think about challenging Wynn, but not doing so, figuring that, unlike 2006, he would be prepared for a challenger. No brave office holders from the county or state level stepped forward, and Edwards took on Wynn again and beat him by 30,000 votes.
In her first term, Edwards has shown the promise and fighting spirit that her supporters (full disclosure: I am one) thought she had in her. For sure, there have been a rocky moment or two along the way with some of her constituents, but overall, she has voted as we wanted her to while trying to cope with the mess of constituent service Wynn left behind.
For a first-term member of Congress, she has emerged as a national leader and an active member of her far-flung district. But that's not good enough, apparently, for State's Attorney Glenn Ivey or Del. Herman Taylor. Both have said they are running against Edwards in the September, 2010, primary. The big question is why? And neither have put forward a good reason.
For Ivey, one reason might be that his chosen race, the one he has been talking about for months, for Prince George's County Executive, is getting a big crowded and he doesn't want to take any chances. One of his old buddies, a former member of the House of Delegates, who ran and lost a County Executive race, is running again. So are the county sheriff, and Aisha Braveboy, a young and energetic woman member of the House of Delegates (who supported Edwards). So are some others. In that filter, why should Ivey, a proven vote-getter and popular public official take his chances running against an old bud and a whole field when he can take aim at Edwards?
Ivey's public quotes are instructive. Here's what he told the Washington Post: At this point, we're focusing on the run for Congress," Ivey said, adding that his decision to challenge Edwards (D-Md.) is not final. 'I used to work on the Hill. . . . I thought it was fulfilling public service, and this is a great time to get back to that work, too. You've got President Obama in the White House, Democratic control of the House and the Senate. I think it's a great time to push a progressive agenda.'"
Pushing a progressive agenda is a dandy idea. We're all for it. And what part of the "progressive agenda" is Edwards not pushing? Ivey isn't saying, as the Post reported: "Ivey declined to address Edwards's record or comment about why he thinks the incumbent of his party should be replaced."
That's a chicken way out. If you want to take on a sitting member of Congress from your own party, you had better have a really good reason for doing so. Edwards had one in taking on Wynn. What has Ivey got? Nothing, except that he would rather be in Congress than continue as State's Attorney or take his chances in another race.
Another factor seen by political observers is that there's a lot of resentment in some quarters in Prince George's County that Edwards has no business being in Congress because she didn't pay her dues in the County party organization. Congress is her first elective office. She didn't work her way up the ladder. She didn't serve in the state legislature, nor in a Prince George's County office. She has to be taught a lesson, and the good ol' boys in the County want to take her job away. Not to put too fine a point on it, that's not good enough to cause an expensive and destructive primary.
The same goes for Taylor, the other would-be candidate. Taylor is one of my representatives from Montgomery County in the House of Delegates and I've worked with him on legislation. He is a fine member of the House of Delegates and would be great there or in another office, such as the State Senate. Yet he has his sights on Congress again, after not running in 2008. Why? Again, there's no reason, except that some business types in Prince George's County are urging him to run. Taylor is active on business-related issues, particularly for African Americans, and is very conservative on issues relating to stem-cell research and abortion. He would have to run at Edwards from the right -- not an appealing thought for this congressional district.
Our Congressional district, and the country, would be better off by supporting Edwards and letting her Congressional career continue on the upward trajectory in which it's headed.