Saturday, January 22, 2011

Will Nan Hayworth Vote as a Rockefeller Republican or a Tea Party Extremist?

Now that the 112th Congress has been sworn in, New York’s 19th Congressional District is represented by Mount Kisco ophthalmologist and a freshman Republican Nan Hayworth. Rep. Hayworth’s voting record should be up for exacting scrutiny – perhaps even more so than the rest of the New York delegation on Capitol Hill – because her constituency in northern Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties has been one of the most fickle swing districts in the United States over the past few election cycles.

Belying New York’s solidly Democratic trends in recent statewide and presidential elections, the GOP has always found a receptive bastion in the New York City suburbs, exurbs and small towns Upstate. NY-19 spans all of those demographic zones. This swing district in the disproportionately upper-income exurbs and working class white towns has historically churned out from the moderate wing of the Republican Party who have demonstrated independence from the partisan leadership in Washington and supported liberal positions on civil rights and the environment. From 1969 through 1994 the 19th district was represented by Hamilton Fish IV – a leader of the liberal Rockefeller Republican wing who voted for two out of three Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon. In 1994 Fish was succeeded by the Katonah denizen Sue Kelly – who positioned herself squarely in the Republican Main Street Partnership, Republicans for Choice and Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Though the 19th Congressional District certainly trends red, it has proved to be not so solidly Republican that GOP Representatives elected here can get away with simply catering to the party’s base and ignoring swing voters. The decidedly independent exurbanites of the 19th District soured on Sue Kelly as she voted for the most divisive excesses of the Republican leadership; a Federal Marriage Amendment to ban same-sex marriage in all states, draconian spending cuts on Medicaid and student loans, and particularly as she doggedly supported what was increasingly perceived as a failing course in Iraq. Moreover, in a year when the House GOP leadership was tarnished by scandal, Representative Kelly came under fire as the Chair of the House Page Board which administered the program amidst the Mark Foley fiasco. In 2006 independent voters bolted.

New York’s 19th Congressional District has been represented so consistently by Republicans for so many decades that the DCCC rarely assembled more than token opposition. Though in 2006, the Republican incumbent was turned out of office by the dark horse Democratic candidate John Hall – a professional rock musician most famous for his guitar and vocals with the band Orleans. Unlike most other 2006 Democratic freshmen, John Hall ran on an unabashedly progressive platform of clean energy, environmental protection, expanding health care coverage and ending the war in Iraq – according to the strategems of the Clintonite New Democrats, he should have lost. But Hall managed to eke out a surprise 51% to 49% victory because he put together the most serious, well-funded Democratic campaign this district had seen in years. John Hall also benefited from a nationwide Democratic wave which proved devastating for most Northeastern Republicans, nowhere more than this quintessential blue state where in 2006 the ballots were headed by the enormously popular Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer. In 2008, an even stronger blue election cycle when Democratic candidates nationwide rode on the long coattails of Barack Obama, Hall won re-election with 59% of the vote.

Though the Democratic candidates performed exceptionally well in 2006 and 2008, even their gains in the Northeast turned out not to be the “national realignment” that some politicos took them for. In the 2010 round of midterm elections, the four-year tenure of John Hall was cut short by GOP challenger Nan Hayworth. Compared to 2006, in 2010 both the DCCC and RCCC regarded NY-19 as a competitive race from the get-go; the latter named Hayworth as one of their “Young Guns”. Even in a in a year when unemployment hovered above 9% and discontented voters were eager to oust incumbents, a red tsunami of a midterm cycle which decimated the ranks of 63 Democratic House members including 5 more from the New York City suburbs and Upstate, Nan Hayworth only won with a modest 52.7% of the vote over Hall’s 47.3%. In other words, even in this election cycle when Republican challengers nationwide had every external factor going in their favor, this was still a very close election. If there is any lesson to be taken home, it is that both parties should now consider NY-19 less like the bastion of moderate Northeastern Republicanism it once was and more like the model swing district that it now is.

Given the competitive nature of the 19th District and the historically persuasion of Hamilton Fish , Sue Kelly and the kind of Republicans which this constituency normally supports, one might expect our new Congresswoman Nan Hayworth to vote well within the moderate faction of the GOP. However, all signs thusfar portend that Hayworth – who enthusiastically received the endorsement of Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association and the Tri-State Sons of Liberty – hails not from the Northeastern moderates once known as “Rockefeller Republicans” but as a firebrand from the right wing of the Republican Party. A proponent of Big Tent-ism she is not; Putnam County activist Jay Michaelson labels the election of Hayworth as “The End of Rockefeller Republicanism”; Bush speechwriter David Frum has described the Princeton- and Cornell-educated Hayworth as “New York's Ivy League Tea Partier”.

Nan Hayworth might not exude the cultural pseudo-populism of her fellow class of 2010 Republican freshmen; unlike the heartland districts where the GOP made most of its electoral gains in 2010, it is not very socially acceptable to espouse openly xenophobic positions in Hayworth’s native Mount Kisco – a multiethnic community with large Black, Latino and Jewish populations. Though what makes Hayworth so appealing to the Tea Party groups which backed her campaign is her dogmatic free market ideology. In his post-election piece in the New York Times, Peter Applebome explains the formation of Hayworth’s views on economics:

To hear her tell it, her life changed in high school, when, at her father’s urging, she read Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, a popular explication of laissez-faire economics, whose listing on features endorsements by Ayn Rand and Ron Paul.

Often Ms. Hayworth sounds as if she is quoting from it: “Private enterprise must thrive. It must flourish. And it must do so without the federal government putting a finger on the scale.”

As for the abuses of business, her attitude seems mostly to blame the government (the mortgage market, for example, was warped by government interference) or to figure that stuff happens.
The best way to predict how Hayworth might vote over the course of the next two years might be to analyze who contributed to her campaign; in her own words in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, “Funding finds its way to a cause”. And not surprisingly, the bulk of the funding for Nan Hayworth’s campaign came from banks, insurance companies, HMOs and the local health care industry which have plenty of chits to cash in from their clientele in Congress (compared to Sue Kelly –who fundraised from a greater variety of business interests – it is interesting to note that Hayworth’s campaign contributions came so disproportionately from the financial and health care sectors). Already Hayworth has voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the number one item on the health care industry’s agenda. Over the next few months she can be expected to vote to dismantle the Dodd-Frank legislation on financial regulations, to make permanent the Bush tax cuts for the highest tax brackets, to abolish the Estate Tax, and other measures meant to protect the profits of her financial patrons.

In addition to the boilerplate economic issues that all Republican candidates campaigned upon in 2010, it will be telling to watch how Congresswoman Hayworth is going to vote on any proposed changes to our national gun control and mental health laws in response to the Tucson shootings. So far, it seems that the most pivotal legislation will be that introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D NY-4) that would ban high-capacity magazines like the 33-round clip used in Arizona. According to The Poughkeepsie Journal, the 19th District’s new U.S. Representative is opposed to even the most modest measures of reforming national gun laws.

Freshman Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth of Mount Kisco, Westchester County, said that even if McCarthy's proposal became law, it would be circumvented. "There would be an extensive secondary market," she said. "So these clips would still be available."
Amazingly enough, Hayworth contends that she will respond to this deadly commerce in extended ammo clips with no legitimate civilian use by voting for the United States government to sit on their hands, parroting the press releases of the National Rifle Association - her campaign’s 9th-largest contributor. Even on the matter of mental health policy – which national Republicans are now hoisting as a cudgel with which to address the Tucson massacre and sidestep gun control altogether – Hayworth promulgates the archaic doctrine of federal impotency.

"The relevant law has been established," she said. "It is incumbent on the state of Arizona to determine how better to enforce it. I don't feel this is a matter for the Congress to pursue at this time."
If Nan Hayworth’s response to the first national crisis of the 112th Congress is going to be emblematic of her voting record for the remainder of her term, it might portend that she will vote to maintain the deregulation of business and public sector minimalism to the most absurd limits of Henry Hazlitt’s laissez faire ideology.

From the narrow standpoint of politics, Hayworth’s posturing on the Second Amendment may or may not translate into electoral dividends come November 2012. Granted, New York’s 19th Congressional District includes the small towns of Putnam, Dutchess and Orange County where the endorsement of the NRA carries a lot of weight amongst the large gun-owning electorate. But they also include Rockland and Westchester County which are home to more suburbanites who sit on the other end of the cultural divide and are more likely to hold a politician’s reflexive obedience to the NRA as a fault against them. Even in 2010 Hall won these counties – including Hayworth’s native Mount Kisco. If common sense gun control legislation like Rep. McCarthy’s high-capacity magazine bill is brought to a vote and Hayworth obediently tows the line of her campaign financiers, then suburban independents might very well jump ship come 2012.

The 19th District is certainly more conservative than New York State as a whole, but that doesn’t mean that Republican office-holders here can speak and act like Republicans from Texas or Alabama and coast to re-election (there is a reason Hayworth’s campaign literature almost ignored social issues altogether and focused incessantly on health care and taxes). So the working class whites of Brewster and Carmel are upset by the influx of Mexican immigrants and the swift cultural transitions happening in their communities – but if Nan Hayworth votes for any Arizona-style immigration laws then the rapidly-growing Hispanic electorate in these counties is going to vote en masse for her opponent in 2012. If John Boehner schedules a vote on a bill meant to scuttle the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or if he resurrects the Federal Marriage Amendment as an election year wedge and Hayworth votes reflexively with her party, the Journal News and the Poughkeepsie Journal will almost certainly cast Hayworth as a bigot – and rightly so. New York is simply too cosmopolitan an environment to be conducive to the Kulturkampf which passes for politics elsewhere in the heartland.

Nan Hayworth’s Tea Party posturing might have been largely ignored in an outlier election cycle all-but-defined by a sluggish economy, rampant unemployment and a climate preternaturally hostile to incumbents, but she should be wary of voting as though there were no tomorrow when the Democratic Party is going to put up a spirited opposition in every future election in this swing district. In November 2012 when New York is expected to vote heavily for Obama and Gillibrand’s re-election and straight-line voting should help all Democratic candidates lower on the ballot without any countervailing Republican wind, NY-19 is surely going to serve as a prime pickup opportunity for the DCCC. So if Nan Hayworth wants to serve another term in Congress after this one, she should emulate the example set by moderate Northeastern Republican Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Scott Brown and consider breaking with her party to vote for the occasional Democratic-sponsored bill every now and then. If Hayworth does not demonstrate independence from the national Republican Party, and especially if she votes consistently with the Tea Party Caucus, then she is only going to hand this seat to her Democratic challenger in 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nan is no Rock Republican. She has voted to scrap Social Security and Medicare and is on record for allowing Wall Street to resume their destructive ways. She keeps her voting record very quiet. When campaigning did anyone hear her say she would end SS? I didn’t. Well our Ms Nan voted to kill SS is that what you want? She has refused to take the “Political Courage Test” by an independent group not affiliated with any party it’s a simple quiz even W could take, and the hits just keep on coming, John Hall was a looser but he has to go some to reach her poor performance.