WASHINGTON — Rep. Keith Ellison earlier this week declared his intention to lead arguably the most powerful liberal association in the Capitol, the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Congress has a whole host of caucuses. Erik Paulsen co-chairs the House Medical Device Caucus, for example, but few pack the punch of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus in the Democratic Party. It’s the left-wing counterpart to the Blue Dog Caucus of moderates. And it stands in polar opposition to House Tea Party Caucus, founded and chaired by Ellison’s neighbor in the 6th District, Michele Bachmann.
“Throughout the 111th Congress, the CPC has played an essential role in improving Health Care Reform legislation, Wall Street Reform legislation, and was instrumental in shaping our nations’ Foreign Policy in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ellison wrote in a letter to colleagues. “At a time when we have seen significant progress in the face of fierce opposition, I believe that the efforts of the CPC will be more critical than ever in the 112th Congress.”
Read Ellison’s full letter here.
University of Minnesota political science professor and politics guru Larry Jacobs said Ellison’s bid is a sensible next step for a representative from a very liberal district who has become a leading voice for progressive issues like single-payer health care and the public option despite his just four years in Congress.
Most recently, Ellison has become the go-to voice in support of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. He has also gained attention for calls to increase investment in public works, including hiring unemployed workers to work public works and public service jobs.
“You know, I think that will help him because he has a track record,” Jacobs said, “in addition to the fact that he comes from a district where being a liberal is a good thing.”
The CPC is currently co-chaired by Lynn Woolsey, whose northern San Francisco Bay district borders Nancy Pelosi’s and Raul Grijalva, an Arizona congressman whose district borders Mexico and who earlier this year called for a boycott of his home state over its controversial immigration enforcement law.
Woolsey said she wouldn’t run again and Grijalva, partially because of that boycott comment, finds himself in a tough reelection race. So at least one leadership spot will be available, possibly both. However, Ellison’s election isn’t a slam dunk. The CPC may decide to revert to just one chairman, and while Ellison has already declared there are many others in the caucus who may also lay claim to the leadership.
“There’s certainly more senior people in the caucus who may have more pull and connections,” Jacobs said. “I think the question will be who else is running as to whether he wins, but from Keith Ellison’s point of view it certainly makes sense.”