Last week, before the majority caucus leadership elections, Peach Pundit was approached about publishing an anonymous article in an attempt to sway opinions of Republicans in the House about who would make the best Speaker. We declined. I believe the author of that piece decided to publish it on Buzzfeed instead, and if you are truly interested in what it had to say, you can Google it.
Leadership styles can be a uniting force or create divisions where none should exist. The fact that someone from within the caucus would want to publish a piece anonymously suggests that there is currently a great deal of division in the House Majority Caucus. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The election of Jon Burns as Speaker presents an opportunity for the Speaker-elect to set a new course and create a new, united culture.
The first test will be how the people who supported the losing side are treated. In the past, a losing challenger would face severe retribution; lost chairmanships of key committees, undesirable office locations, not being given hearings on bills, not being called upon to ask questions during a floor debate, etc. There are a whole lot of ways to punish the losers and those who supported them in a caucus election.
When David Ralston lost his challenge to Glen Richardson years ago, that is what Richardson did to Ralston. Marched him out of the Capitol and across the street to the Coverdell Legislative Office Building and stripped him of his chairmanship. Those who supported Ralston were met with similar fates. Richardson’s style created division and ultimately helped make it easier for Ralston to ascend when the timing was right.
When I was elected in 2013, the House Majority stood at 119, one away from a super majority. Today it is 101. The Majority Caucus cannot afford for the divisions of old to continue. You cannot marginalize even a few members without it beginning to have an impact on bills when they arrive on the floor for a vote. Speaker-elect Burns can be a unifying leader if in the coming weeks he exercises grace with all of his colleagues who supported someone else. And what I have learned about Jon Burns is that he has it in him to do just that.
It is rare for someone to walk into the House Chamber with the intention of being at odds with leadership. It does happen, but what happens most of the time is the person (people) who gets marginalized under the old leadership style decides to fight back. And the division continues.
Jon Burns always was willing to listen and he didn’t shy from delivering news that was hard to hear. I respected that then as I do now. And that willingness to listen and to hear everyone out is what gives me hope that he can heal the tear that is apparent today. It will be his first leadership test, and possibly the most important one.
Note: A long time ago the press was giving then Majority Leader Burns a hard time for some errors that he corrected on old financial disclosures. He went on Lawmakers and said, he was, “doing pretty good for a country boy.” In his defense, even as the media admitted, the law was not clear about what had to be disclosed at the time and it was as confusing as a puzzle missing a dozen or so pieces. Since then, I often greet him by asking if he is, “doing good for a country boy.” Indeed, he is.