In case you missed the news, Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) announced today that he will not be seeking reelection this year.
"There are better ways to serve my fellow citizens... I love working for the people of Indiana. I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress."Bayh stated that his frustration with "excessive partisanship" was his reason for leaving the Senate, citing the recent examples of Harry Reid scrapping the proposed "jobs bill" and the 7 Republican co-sponsors of the bill to form the Deficit Reduction Commission voting against their own bill as examples.
While Bayh himself has stated that "even in the current challenging environment, I am confident in my prospects for re-election," I'm not so sure he had any reason to be that confident. In today's environment, Democratic incumbents in "purple states" have every reason to fear losing their jobs in the coming months. He's polling well now, but 2010 is going to be a long year. Martha Coakley was polling well for a while too, and we all know how that turned out.
Bayh's decision to not run for reelection most likely dooms the Democrats to losing his seat this November, so Democrats have every reason to feel betrayed. However, I don't feel this way. At least, not yet.
The Silver Lining
Evan Bayh might have been the best chance the Democrats had of keeping a Senate seat in Indiana, but in this current political climate, his reelection was far from a sure thing. I would suggest that his reelection may well not have even been a good thing, either.
To borrow a quote from President Obama:
"I don’t believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security. They want us to focus on their job security. I don’t think they want more gridlock. I don’t think they want more partisanship. I don’t think they want more obstruction. They didn’t send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That’s not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they’re grappling with every single day."Now that he is no longer concerned with his own job preservation (which involves making sure that the industries he's supposed to regulate don't withdraw financial support from his campaign, and making sure not to create more fodder that special interests can use in attack ads against him), Evan Bayh has the better part of a year to vote his conscience (whatever that may be).
A quick look at Evan Bayh's history (thanks to OpenSecrets.org, a great resource if you want to know who's paying for political campaigns) shows that among his top 20 contributors are Goldman Sachs, an investment banking and securities firm, Eli Lilly & Co, a pharmaceutical company, and Peabody Energy, a coal company. One could argue that accepting over $100,000 over the course of five years from just those three companies doesn't necessarily indicate that his integrity as a legislator has been compromised. However, the absence of a need to please these three contributors alone makes me feel more comfortable that Evan Bayh will make better decisions about financial regulation, health care, and cap and trade. (Evan Bayh spoke out against cap and trade last year, and was part of the "Blue Dog" coalition that got the public option taken out of the Senate's health care reform bill.)
Also, remember those "Do Not Let Evan Bayh Kill Jobs" billboards? Now that Evan Bayh isn't running for reelection, the Economic Freedom Alliance, a special interest group whose objective is to kill the Employee Free Choice Act, has essentially wasted money on its campaign in Indiana.
Worst Case Scenario
On the other hand, Evan Bayh could use the remainder of his Senate term doing favors for big business so that he can cash in when he retires (a la Billy Tauzin*). There are already signs that this will be the case. According to the Indianapolis Star, Bayh's wife, Susan Bayh, has been accepting positions on corporate boards ever since her husband was elected to the Senate, drawing charges of a conflict of interest, especially regarding her position on the board of Wellpoint, one of the nation's largest health insurance companies.
Only time will tell what Senator Bayh will choose to do. I hope that he chooses to make the right choice, spending his last year building up his legacy, working with his fellow Democrats in passing meaningful reforms, free from the constraints of campaigning and the influence of special interests.
*Tauzin was the infamous Democrat-turned-Republican Congressman and (ironically enough) founder of the Blue Dog Democrats, who famously pushed the Medicare Modernization Act through Congress in 2003. The bill provided prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients, on the condition that the government could not negotiate with the drug companies for lower costs, or import the drugs on the cheap from countries like Canada. After passing this huge government giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies, Tauzin retired from Congress and began making over $2.5 million a year lobbying for those same companies as the head of PhRMA.
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