Prior to the 2012 redistricting and election, the Alaska State Senate was controlled by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats. The governor opposed this coalition because it prevented the passage of a large tax cut for oil companies that came to be known as SB 21. Regardless of whether one agrees with the political leanings of that bipartisan group, its existence at least proved that bipartisan coalitions are possible. Today, such a bipartisan coalition is needed in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The need for a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House is not driven, as some may think, by radicalization on both sides of the aisle. That is a common journalistic trope and a popular opinion among talking heads, but it does not accurately describe what is actually happening in DC. It is lazy journalism.
Here’s what has happened: an ideologically extreme element of the Republican Party has taken control of the national GOP, and through it, the House of Representatives. This extremism is driven largely by the 2010 gerrymandering on the federal level, which created far too many safe districts, and by our primary system, which has left moderate Republicans in those districts afraid of only one thing: Tea Party challengers on their right.
This phenomenon has been exhaustively documented elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on it too much. But consider: When the Tea Party — through the House GOP — declared in the January “Williamsburg Accord” that they would no longer negotiate with the President, just a few months after his massive electoral victory (and Democrats getting 1.5 million more votes that Republicans in House races), shouldn’t we have suspected that something had changed inside the party? Today, do we think there is anything that the President could realistically offer that would satisfy the Tea Party? Would even a complete capitulation by the Senate Democrats have gotten between Ted Cruz and that TV camera? Let’s not be naive.
Fortunately, Alaska’s own Bipartisan Coalition offers an example of a way out of this mess. Here’s how it would work: Because House members can vote for whomever they want to be the Speaker of the House, the Speaker does not have to draw his or her support exclusively from their own party. There are enough votes within the non-Tea Party Republican Party to combine with the Democrats, remove Speaker Boehner — the Tea Party’s chief enabler, at the moment — and replace him with a new Speaker. This Speaker, like the head of Alaska’s Bipartisan Coalition, could be a moderate Republican who forswears government shutdowns, abandons the “Hastert Rule” (that all bills taken to the floor must have support, as a prerequisite, from a majority of the majority party), and governs from the center.
Such a bipartisan coalition is likely to leave a number of Tea Party members on the outside looking in. It might also isolate a handful of extremist Democrats, who refuse to vote for a moderate Republican.
It so happens that Alaska’s own Congressman, Don Young, could lead this charge. Heck, he could be Speaker.
Young is a senior member of the House, indeed the second most senior Republican. He claims to have amassed considerable power and influence with that seniority, on both sides of the aisle. He is a member of the majority party, and he has no serious primary challenger. Indeed, he has not been seriously challenged in the primary since 2008, when Sean Parnell and the Club For Growth attempted to take him down.
Representative Young and what remains of the moderate Republican Party need to join with centrist Democrats, get rid of Boehner, and stop enabling the tactics and radicalism that have caused this shutdown. They have the power. What they have lacked thus far are the guts. Until they do so, they are personally responsible for this government shutdown, and soon, as we approach the “debt limit,” the first true breach of the Full Faith and Credit of the United States.
• Forrest Dunbar is a lifelong Alaskan, who grew up in Eagle and Cordova. Today he lives in Anchorage and is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.