- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is the Democrats' new brass-tacks man.

Unanimously elected by his colleagues in November to be the House minority whip, the 63-year-old, 11-term congressman from the Maryland suburbs of Washington is the muscle man, the one who is supposed to count the votes and find as much support for the party's positions as he can among the 205 Democrats in the House of Representatives.

To do that he's giving the whip operation its first overhaul in more than a decade, and he's found a model in an unlikely place the one run by former Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, who is now House majority leader.

"I think he was very successful like somebody who has a great football organization, and people see it's a winning organization," Mr. Hoyer said. "There are different ways to operate, and usually people gravitate towards those ways of operating that seemed to be successful."

The challenge Mr. Hoyer faces is revamping an operation that has its roots in when Democrats held a majority in the House.

"It went up to as high as 290 [Democrats] at one time," Mr. Hoyer said. "When you have those kind of numbers, the whip operation meant you were going to get 230 or 240 [votes on a measure]. The newspapers didn't come out with a headline: 'Democrats get 10 more than we thought they'd get.' You know, you won. It wasn't a big deal. Then we went in the minority, and we sort of still operated the way we had."

The whip's goal is to have as many Democrats vote for the caucus position as possible, he said, so the key is to make sure they are on board early in the policy-development process because then they're more likely to be on board at the end.

One of the messages Mr. Hoyer brings to Democrats is that they have to win voters' trust on national security issues the way they have on domestic issues.

"We need to assure people the Democratic Party is committed, for instance, to national security, to a strong defense, to fighting terrorism, to being unified as a country in ensuring a safe homeland, and the spread of freedom and democracy," he said. "They believe we're for their kids' education, they believe we're for a good health care system, they believe we're for the environment."

After the 2002 elections, Mr. Hoyer's message to Democrats was that they don't have to choose between energizing their base or reaching out to swing voters.

"How do you reach out to both? You emphasize and focus on issues they have in common," he said. "The base cares about education, the base cares about jobs, the base cares about health care. They care about other things as well, but to think that swing voters don't care about jobs while labor does, is absurd."

Few would accuse Mr. Hoyer of being a "Haight-Ashbury liberal," the tag for the Democrats' House leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. That's somewhat surprising because Mr. Hoyer's record isn't that far from hers when viewed from the Americans for Democratic Action's legislative scorecard.

Mr. Hoyer scored 95 percent from the liberal ADA the past two years, while Mrs. Pelosi scored a 100 percent both years. House Democrats averaged about 85 percent for both years.

But the scorecard doesn't capture issues such as last year's vote authorizing the president to use force in Iraq. Mr. Hoyer supported the resolution, while Mrs. Pelosi and most House Democrats opposed it.

Mr. Hoyer is also well positioned to reach out to key Democratic interest groups, including the Congressional Black Caucus, whose chairman is fellow Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. Mr. Hoyer also tapped a prominent black lawmaker, Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, to be senior chief deputy whip.

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