The Leadership Crisis in Congress
In May, Nancy Pelosi announced she would run for Speaker of the House if Democrats won control of the lower chamber in the midterm elections. When asked her motivations for running, she said: “It’s important that it not be five white guys at the table, no offense.” She mentioned that her contenders were all white men, and she felt it was important to have a woman’s voice at the table. She’s right, of course. But it is also essential to have younger voices in Congressional leadership. While Pelosi and others may recognize that party hierarchies in Congress inherently favor old members over fresher voices, they have done very little to elevate younger and more diverse members of the party to positions of authority. While this would be an easy problem for Pelosi to solve through reshuffling Democratic leadership, this problem will persist much longer than the current or next Congress. Beyond speaking up about this issue, what can be done?
The first step, of course, is supporting younger and more diverse candidates running for Congress so they are able to get their foot in the door and become more experienced. Younger leaders should not mean inexperienced leaders. While the election of President Trump has led to a clear backlash of experienced politicians, I believe that a politician with even just a few years of leadership experience is able to get more done than someone who does not fully understand legislative processes, political motivations, the challenges of leading a party, and much more. The 2018 midterm elections saw the addition of many young people to Congress, making crucial progress on this issue.
Expansive campaign finance reform would also help ameliorate this problem. Campaign finance reform must incorporate public financing and amend how candidates receive money from political parties. Public financing can take many forms, but it often involves state matching of small-dollar donations in order to discourage big money donors. To address the seniority issue in Congressional leadership, however, even more drastic reform is needed. Candidates and incumbents should not be able to tap the party apparatus whenever they are short on cash or polling poorly. If an incumbent is in trouble, they either need to fundraise their way out of it with small-dollar donations or come to terms with losing. This creates a system where members of Congress can sincerely evaluate the flaws and strengths of their party leadership without feeling loyalty to their leadership because of financial assistance in elections.
With all that said, the most direct solution to this problem of diversity and inclusion in Congress would be to change the process of running for Minority Leader, Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, or other positions. Term limits for leadership positions would be the best way to usher in new party leaders. These ideas -- campaign finance reform that changes how parties interact with candidates, and term limits on leadership positions -- are unlikely to garner support anytime soon. No one voluntarily wants to give up their seat at a powerful table. Perhaps it’s time for voters to demand refreshing, different, and younger voices at that table.