Many political pundits are analyzing why Rep. Betsy (D - CO CD4) changed her earlier "No" vote on health care reform to a "Yes" this week. Moving too far toward the middle does not appear to be a successful strategy for Colorado Democratic politicians in 2010. Representative Markey’s advisors had badly misjudged her constituents during 2009, who would likely have either stayed home or actively worked to defeat her next November had she voted "No" on the health care reform bill this Sunday.
Many political pundits are analyzing why Rep. Betsy (D - CO CD4) changed her earlier "No" vote to a "Yes" this week. The following seems to represent many nationally syndicated pundits’ conclusions:
"Democratic Reps. Bart Gordon and Betsy Markey flipped from ‘no’ to ‘yes.’ And the fact that Pelosi had to lean on a Democrat like Markey so early illustrates how hard up she is for votes. Markey is a freshman representing a rural Colorado district in a state with a fierce independent streak. Her district voted for John McCain in 2008. Markey was a break-in-case-of-emergency vote that, up until yesterday, leadership had been trying to protect. Markey’s move means Democrats have broken the glass and pulled the fire alarm."
I don’t think the national pundits really understand the "new" Colorado democrats, nor do I think that Speaker Pelosi "pulling the Democratic fire alarm" is the explanation for Markey’s announced "Yes" vote. The simple fact is, moving too far toward the middle does not appear to be a successful strategy for Colorado Democratic politicians in 2010. Governor Bill Ritter’s moves to the middle angered several key Democratic constituencies, his poll numbers subsequently tanked, and as a result he will not be the Governor this time next year. Senator Michael Bennet, appointed by Ritter in a surprise move, had spent the better part of 2009 positioning himself as a "moderate" before a primary challenger appeared, after which he began supporting populist agenda items.
Representative Markey voted several times during 2009 against the wishes of many in her base, becoming a member of the House "Blue Dog" coalition in the process. The perception of her performance in office began to undermine many Colorado democrats’ willingness to trust that Senator Michael Bennet’s recent populist positions would continue, should he be elected to a six-year term in the Senate. Senator Mark Udall's lukewarm performance in office also influenced their trust in Michael Bennet.
The 2009 voting records of both Markey and Udall had made many in Markey's district too suspicious to fully trust and support Michael Bennet in last Tuesday’s caucus. They questioned whether his recent populist positions are genuine? Could he really be trusted to follow through differently than Markey has, should he be elected to a six year term in November?
Bennet's challenger, Andrew Romanoff, won the Colorado Democratic caucus by nearly 10 percentage points over Bennet, a sitting Senator, on Tuesday. Andrew Romanoff has been a dependable and consistent progressive voice and vote in Colorado for many years, and as a result many of Markey’s constituents supported Romanoff in Tuesday's caucus despite the latent leadership exhibited by Senator Bennet. I am sure this did not go unnoticed by either Bennet or Markey. And it should not go unnoticed by Senator Udall.
In addition, Markey’s switch to a "yes" vote was likely influenced by the strong feelings communicated to her by a large number of her Democratic base supporters from 2008. For example, in a unanimous vote the Colorado Democratic Caucus of Precinct 417 approved a resolution unanimously at Tuesday's caucus demanding that Representative Betsy Markey vote "Yes" on the health care reform:
"BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS OF COLORADO PRECINCT #4154935417, MEETING ON MARCH 16, 2010, DEMANDS THAT REPRESENTATIVE BETSY MARKEY OF COLORADO CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 4 VOTE YES ON THE HEALTH CARE REFORM LEGISLATION NOW UNDER CONSIDERATION BY THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES."
Colorado District 417 is located in rural Larimer County and is populated primarily by middle class working people who don't normally make demands of their representatives. This strongly worded resolution demonstrated a deep and powerful belief among rank-and-file Democratic voters in Markey's congressional district that action to approve this health care reform legislation is an urgent priority in their lives. A "No" vote on health care reform would clearly be unacceptable to them. The fact that the "demand" term was included by unanimous vote of many of her base supporters should have offered ample evidence to Markey and her staff that her upcoming vote on HCR may well determine whether she is to be re-elected in 2010.
I believe that Representative Markey’s advisors had badly misjudged her constituents during 2009. They would likely have either stayed home or actively worked to defeat her next November if she had voted "No" on the health care bill this Sunday. This Sunday's critical vote was likely the final opportunity for Betsy Markey to save her seat in Congress by having the courage to do the right thing for the people who actually elected her to office. Her cover for the switch was enhanced by the CBO deficit reduction score, allowing her to reinforce a "penny-watching" pledge.
The "new" Colorado democrats who worked and voted for Markey in CD4 are not "Republican lite", as are many of the "traditional" party members. They came to the party in large numbers through the "Obama For America" movement, and expect the candidates who rode the Obama coattails into office to support the President's populist agenda. When they worked the office, made phone calls, and knocked on doors for Betsy Markey in 2008 that's what they thought she would work and vote for in Congress. Her switch to a "Yes" vote on Sunday is a victory for the people of Colorado, will contribute to a big victory for America, and will be a vindication of Representative Betsy Markey among her base. And it is for these reasons that she made the decision to vote "Yes".
Colorado democrats should now call and thank her for this historic vote.