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A Dog of a Different Color
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 3, 2001

Question: With all of the media attention on Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), I have heard several mentions of the "Blue Dog Democrats." I've also heard about "yellow dog Democrats" (people who would sooner vote for a yellow dog than for a Republican). Are there any other colored canines out there? Or alternately, what factions exist in Congress currently, and what are some of the more creative names for factions in Congress historically?
– Russell Lundberg, Chicago, Ill.

A Democratic rainbow coalition of sorts. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: You define "yellow dog Democrats" correctly. William Safire's "New Political Dictionary" says that the term goes back to the 1928 election. Sen. Tom Heflin (D-Ala.) bolted the Dems because they nominated as their presidential candidate Al Smith, the governor of New York and a Catholic. While Heflin supported Republican Herbert Hoover, others from Alabama stuck with Smith and popularized the line, "I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket." This was during the days when voting Republican in the South was considered heresy, a view that lasted -- for the most part -- until Barry Goldwater came along in 1964.

The Blue Dogs are a group of about 30 conservative-leaning House Democrats (including Condit) who came together in 1995 to combat the liberal tendencies of their party. Their name, clearly a play on "yellow dog Democrats," is said to come from former Rep. Pete Geren (D-Texas), who said that the members have been "choked blue" by Democrats from the left. The group's members have become the balance of power in the closely-divided House and are the descendants of a faction of Southern Democrats known as the Boll Weevils, best remembered for their crucial backing of President Ronald Reagan's tax cuts in the early 1980s.

I don't know of any other shades of canine on the rainbow, but there's a group of conservative House Republicans called "CATS" - about 40 or so members of the Conservative Action Team, led by Arizona's John Shadegg. Unlike the real cats and dogs, these groups get along quite nicely. On the other side of the spectrum is a group of liberal Democrats who have formed the "Progressive Caucus." There's also the "Tuesday Group," which is comprised of about two dozen moderate House Republicans, whose ranks once included Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

Question: Whenever I see references to Bella Abzug, the late New York Democrat, she is referred to as the first Jewish congresswoman. She isn't. I know who the first is, but I'm wondering if you do.
– Mitch Richman, Oakland, Calif.

Abzug's 1970 election came 45 years after Florence Kahn's. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: You gotta get up early in the morning to slip this one by me.

Your answer is Florence Kahn, a conservative California Republican who succeeded her late husband in a special 1925 election and served until her defeat in 1936. According to Kurt Stone's "The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill," Kahn one day had found herself in the middle of a heated debate with Rep. Fiorello La Guardia (R-N.Y.). La Guardia, who would later become New York's legendary mayor, charged Kahn to be "nothing but a standpatter" and a follower of the "reactionary" Sen. George Moses of New Hampshire. Responded Kahn, "Why shouldn't I choose Moses as my leader? Haven't my people been following him for ages?"

Question: I enjoy your column and the wealth of knowledge you bring to readers. However, in the July 27 column, you mentioned that there are 60 women in the House. But on the clerk's Web site, reference is made to 61 women. Who is right? Is the discrepancy due to the recent election of Rep. Diane Watson (D) in California?
– Korey Hartwich, Moscow, Russia

Answer: I included Watson, who won a special election on June 5 to succeed the late Rep. Julian Dixon (D). The discrepancy between my list and that of the House Clerk is that I don't count Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia.

Next year marks Byrd's 50th anniversary of his first congressional election. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Question: I'm not sure your answer in your last column about the most senior member of Congress was correct. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) have been in their current positions the longest in representing the House and Senate respectively. Byrd, however, was elected to the House in 1952, serving for three terms there before winning election to the Senate in 1958.
– Stephan Kline, Arlington, Va.

Answer: The question was about who was more senior, Dingell or Thurmond. Combined service in Congress (House plus Senate) is not counted when discussing seniority. But you are absolutely correct in that Sen. Byrd is indeed the longest-serving member of Congress - continuous since his election to the House in 1952.

Postscript: The June 22 column discussed political figures who leave office, only to return in a somewhat lower position. I printed some additions sent in by readers in the July 13 column, including one from Harvey Hudson of Eden Prairie, Minn., who listed former Rep. John Burton (D-Calif.), now a state senator. Many readers pointed out, as did Hudson, that California only has 40 state Senate seats, as compared to 52 (soon to be 53) congressional seats, which might make going from Congress to the state Senate a step UP! Similarly, Brian Casterline of Farmington, Mich. notes the case of Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (D-Calif.), a former member of Congress, who now serves as one of five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who act as managers for the entire county of nine million people. Here's some more to add to the list:

• Bill Schuette (R-Mich.), a former congressman who is now a state senator;

• Eric Fingerhut, Ron Mottl and Mary Rose Oakar, Ohio Democrats all, who after their respective defeats for re-election for Congress served in the state legislature;

• Arthur Ravenel (R-S.C.), who sandwiched his congressional career with tenure in the state Senate; and

• Marion Barry, who after his disgraceful exit from the D.C. mayoralty was elected to the city council.

Thanks to Alex Sheffield of Baton Rouge, La.; Corey Olomon of Baylor University; Dan Haifley of Santa Cruz, Calif.; Mike Witkoski of Columbia, S.C.; Pat Nason of Granada Hills, Calif.; Hubert Neely; Ben Gibbons of Columbus, Ohio; and Jon Morgan of Washington, D.C., for their help compiling this list.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin


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