At least 16 Democrats will not seek reelection to the House of Representatives this fall. No surprise there, given that they are outnumbered 233 to 200 (with two vacant seats), and the Republican majority has no interest in power-sharing, collaboration or even communicating. Among the 51 Tea Party Representatives are some who take pride in how long they have been in Congress without ever speaking to a Democrat. And, with support for President Obama at a scant 41 percent, the prospects for Democrats in the mid-term election are looking slim to grim.
So it’s kind of refreshing that the most junior member of the minority party in the House, elected in January in a special election to fill the seat held by now Senator Ed Markey, suffers from neither burnout or tired cynicism. She faces her new role with enthusiasm and even optimism. This morning at The New England Council, she dealt with her bottom-of-the-rung seniority rating with self-deprecating humor. (No choice, really, when you’re that low on the ladder.)
Despite the acrimonious partisanship, Clark believes members can’t afford not to make relationships across the aisle. So she’s already working with Republicans David McKinley of West Virginia on energy efficiency legislation, which will address climate change; Chris Smith of New Jersey on human trafficking; Steve Stivers of Ohio on opiate addiction pilot programs; Erik Paulsen of Minnesota on repealing the medical device tax. “We have to begin to knit Congress back together,” says Clark.
I’m not for term limits. I believe that sound judgment coupled with institutional memory is an important counterweight to undue influence from lobbyists. I also respect the power that comes with seniority and what it can do for the people of Massachusetts. But Clark’s fresh perspective, enthusiasm, warmth and willingness to reach across the aisle are encouraging for their potential, over time, to help ease the animus and partisan gridlock that has kept Congress’ approval rating at a dismal 13 percent. At least, I hope so.
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