by Bob Geary
[Update: I'm updating this as I post it. The news about Bev Perdue has folks asking Brad Miller about a possible gubernatorial run, and I read that he hasn't ruled it out. In our conversation yesterday, the subject of governor never came up — I would say Brad hadn't heard anything about Perdue; if that's not the case, I'd put my money on him in a poker game.]
Brad Miller is my congressman. I should add, he's also my kind of congressman — the kind who gets his hands dirty in the scuffle over complicated issues, in Miller's case Wall Street and banking issues, and takes the consumer/citizen side even though the big-money interests are warning him that it's not the smart thing to do. So I'm happy with Brad representing me in Washington. Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case after 2012.
Thanks to the Republican redistricting, my part of Raleigh will be represented next year by a Republican, either Paul Coble or George Holding. A Republican, Renee Ellmers, already represents a different (small) part of Raleigh. The redistricting should help Ellmers be re-elected. Thus, the Triangle — Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill — will have two Republicans in Congress next year thanks to GOP map-drawing. (Which is how these things work. When Democrats drew the districts a decade ago, the result was three seats all held by Democrats until Ellmers ousted Bob Etheridge in the 2010 elections.)
Still, the Republicans left us — I say us as in we citizens of the Triangle — with one Democratic seat. It's the new 4th District into which both Miller and Rep. David Price were packed. Until yesterday, when Brad told some of us that he wouldn't be running for re-election (he asked that we not report it until this morning), it looked like Miller and Price would be squaring off in a Democratic primary to see which of them the voters — the Democratic voters — preferred.
I was looking forward to that contest. I was looking forward to Miller and Price describing for us why each would think he'd make the better representative of our interests in Washington. Not that I'd have an actual vote, since I don't live in the new 4th, but if I'd had one, I think I probably would've voted for Miller. But not necessarily. As I say, I looked forward to the debate.
In fact, when Brad's office called to say he wanted to talk about his re-election plans, I assumed he would be running and I jotted down some questions — would he agree to a series of debates? how about a spending limit? how about both sides agreeing to mutual disarmament on negative ads and instead running a campaign we all could be proud of, regardless who won?
Ah, but now it won't happen.
Brad, when he called, conceded that he'd be the underdog in a race against Price, who's been around a lot longer and is better known in the parts of the Triangle (mainly Durham and Orange counties) ceded to a Democrat by the Republican map-makers. He said he struggled with whether to run anyway, but finally didn't look forward to it with any "joy," and without joy, a campaign is just drudgery.
What was also clear to me — reading between the lines — is that the Democratic "establishment," meaning Democrats with the money that Miller and Price would've needed to run their respective campaigns, had made it clear to Brad that, hey, nothing against you (except for that rebellious streak), but we're for David. And we don't want to pay for two primary campaigns.
Then there was Brad's disappointment that, while he was telling the world that he wanted to run but also had the greatest respect for Price and it was a tough decision, etcetera, etcetera, Price acted like the 4th District was "his" district and he was running for re-election regardless ... and — per a leaked poll — he, Price would win against Miller, and Miller should know it.
Miller, in other words, was treating the race like it belonged to the voters to decide which of the two should be their representative. Price was treating the race like it belonged to him. Or so Brad perceived it.
I don't know if that's fair to Price. I did want to hear from David why he thought he'd make a better congressman for us given the situation that exists in Washington. Given, that is, that the Democrats are the minority party in the House and will probably continue to be the minority party for as many years as the 71-year old Price could reasonably expect to be there. Given that the new 4th District is rock-solid Democrat and should produce — or should it? that's really the question — a fighting progressive Democrat with no need to worry about appealing to some fictional political "center" or gee, let's triangulate, let's look for a "Third Way."
And if it produces a fighting progressive, what should that member fight for when it comes to the major issues of our time: corporate and financial globalization, "free" trade agreements, the outsourcing of American jobs to cheaper labor markets around the world, and the dominant role of Big Money in American politics? (The dominant role of Big Money in the World._
A Miller-Price debate could've focused attention on the critical problem for America, which is that the Republicans can't address these issues, for obvious ideological reasons; and the Democrats, who are torn between their desire to stand with the people and their dependance on Wall Street and corporate cash for campaigns, won't.
And we only have two political parties, so unless the Democrats get their s—- together, we're screwed.
Miller, as he tried to keep his options open over the past year, said that if he ran against Price, he hoped the campaign would be about "the soul of the Democratic Party" and how to restore its populism without committing political suicide.
In September, 2008, he told me yesterday, he had to turn to Wikipedia for a working definition of credit default swaps. He was an attentive, hard-working member of the House Financial Services Committee. Even so, he'd never heard the term ... until, that is, trillions of dollars of unsecured credit default swaps and other so-called "collateralized debt obligations" pedaled by Wall Street that turned out to be un-collateralized "toxic assets" damn near sank the U.S. and world economies.
He knew then, if he didn't already know, that the bankers who testified before his House committee weren't a great source of information about banking, nor were the Wall Streeters who ran the Treasury Department for George W. Bush and, since 2009, for Barack Obama.
Since 2008, Miller has emerged as one of the leading progressive voices on these issues in the House. With Rep. Barney Frank's retirement, Miller stood to be THE leading progressive voice. That was his case for wanting to be re-elected. Deep down, he thought it was Price who should be thinking about stepping aside. But Price wasn't thinking that at all.
The question is floating around out there whether Price and Miller made a deal where David would serve one more term and then step down and let Miller run for the seat. (
I would hope not. If Price only plans to run one more time, he absolutely should've stepped aside in favor of the 58-year old Miller, who certainly has more "upside.")
Anyway, It's not true, Miller told me. There is no deal. In fact, Miller said it's unlikely that he'll ever run for Congress again, because even if Price did step aside in two or four years, Miller — if elected — would return to the House as a freshman, with his committee assignments uncertain and no seniority.
And meanwhile, the debate over banking and global capitalism — the issues he cares about — would've moved on without him.
So instead, Miller said, he'll look for ways to be an advocate for citizens' interests from the outside, working with (for?) progressive groups, maybe doing some TV commentary and punditry: Untethered to the grind of congressional duty, Brad could soon be to the progressive side what Newt or Pat Buchanan's been to the conservatives. No, that's a low blow. Nobody should wanna be like Newt.
But there is an opening in the mainstream media for a Democrat who actually knows something about banking issues and stands with the people nonetheless. Somebody not named Robert Rubin, in other words.