New New Democrat

The power of our state's congressional delegation continues to grow in the nation's capital. Add Tacoma Democrat Adam Smith to the list of D.C. power brokers who hail from the Evergreen State.

Last week, Smith was named as one of the three co-chairs of the 72-member House New Democrat Coalition. "New Democrat" is newspeak for "centrist" à la Bill Clinton. Liberals like Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle) need not apply. (Four of the six Washington Democrats in the House are members of the group. Only McDermott and Norm Dicks [D-Bremerton] are not.)

Unlike Washington's other congressional heavyweights--like Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Bellevue Republican Representative Jennifer Dunn--Smith's new leadership role will not be a fundraising one, according to Smith spokesperson Katherine Lister.

"The caucus is really more of a policy group. It's not really centered on elections," she says.

When people like Ralph Nader and Michael Moore say they can't tell the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, it's precisely members of groups like Smith's that they cite. Indeed, the New Democrats' slogan sounds like it was stolen from a Republican whiteboard somewhere: "Community, responsibility, and opportunity." When describing the group, Lister even borrows a phrase from President Bush, talking about "leaving no one behind."

But Lister says that while liberals like McDermott may not find a home among the New Democrats, "neither will Jennifer Dunn." Lister declares that her boss and his fellow New Democrats are, at their core, Democrats. (Whatever the hell that means.) Lister points out that Smith voted against many of President Bush's key proposals, including his multi-billion-dollar tax-cut package and his proposal to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

New Democrats like Smith are not about to endear themselves to the critics of capitalism that protested the International Monetary Fund in Seattle's streets this past weekend, though. Smith is avidly pro NAFTA and other trade pacts. Lister says her boss wants to make sure America's workforce is trained to handle the jobs in a more high-tech economy.

"We're interested in increasing exports and modernizing our system," says Lister, "also in looking at the new economy and making sure people aren't left out of that." The phrase they like to use is "expanding the winners' circle."

House Democrats would also like to "expand the winners' circle" this fall as they try yet again to take control of the House. Look for campaign-issue leadership for this fall's races to come from Smith's New Democrat Coalition.