REP. JOHN Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat recently crowned for the 20th time when voters sent him back to Congress, might be the ambulatory argument for term limits.
Conyers has sponsored much legislation, some of it good, over the years. He has so grown in stature that he has made the error of thinking he actually knows something about Maryland's politics. Here's the congressman speaking at a post-election forum Thursday sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in the Rayburn House Office Building .
"I know why [Gov.-elect] Robert Ehrlich and [Lt. Gov.-elect] Michael Steele were elected," Conyers told those assembled -- a group that included Steele. "It was because [Lt. Gov.] Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was too dumb to put a black on the ticket, and she lost."
One doesn't get a sense of Maryland history, I suppose, walking around the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building. The 2002 election wasn't the first time an African-American ran on the Republican gubernatorial ticket in the lieutenant governor's slot. Aris Allen was the first, running with Republican gubernatorial candidate J. Glenn Beall in 1978.
The Democrats have just once put a black candidate up for high office. When they did - in the 1986 primary, with former U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Stephen H. Sachs -- Democrats rejected the ticket the black candidate was on.
The difference in this case is that the Republicans managed to get a ticket with a black lieutenant-governor candidate elected. Conyers knows in his heart that as long as he remains a Democrat, he'll continue to be "Representative Conyers," representing Michigan's 14th District, instead of "Senator Conyers," representing the entire state.
There were a number of factors contributing to the Ehrlich-Steele victory other than Townsend's choice of running mate. Conyers obviously didn't know of - and wouldn't have mentioned if he did - the notorious race-baiting Democrats engaged in during the campaign.
Who can forget Townsend defending affirmative action during her debate with Ehrlich at Morgan State? Slavery, lynching, discrimination and Jim Crow were based on race, Townsend pandered, thus affirmative action should be also. She was absolutely right on Jim Crow, a little right on the slavery, but dead wrong on lynching and discrimination.
Then, of course, there was the episode of Oreo cookies being passed around by members of the debate audience as an insult to Steele, with the implication being he wasn't quite black enough. It's a tactic Conyers tried Thursday, but Steele called him on it.
"I'm interested in the psychology of black conservatives," Conyers said. "I want to know `What makes you like this?'"
Steele's rejoinder was swift.
"What you're saying is that there is no room for diversity of opinion," Steele said. "You're saying, `There is no room for any thinking not like my own.' Whites can have diversity of thought. Blacks, apparently, can not."
Steele then took the time to educate Conyers on why the Republicans took Maryland's governorship.
"Democrats felt they had the black vote, 90-10," Steele said. "They had the women's vote. They wanted the white male vote. They hadn't counted on Ehrlich recognizing that strategy."
Steele's reference was to retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, Townsend's running mate. Democrats, Steele said, never figured Ehrlich to select a black running mate.
Nor did they figure prominent black Democrats would ever support Ehrlich. The Democrats rolled those dice and they came up snake-eyes. After the Thursday morning forum, Steele was back in Baltimore that night, for a "meet and greet" session held at the Southern Blues restaurant on Howard Street.
Former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III was there, talking about how Democrats had taken blacks for granted way too long. His son, departing state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, was there, proud that the ticket he had backed won.
Del. Tony E. Fulton showed up, as did attorneys William J. Murphy and A. Dwight Pettit. In 1976, Pettit was the state co-chairman for the campaign of Jimmy Carter, who went on to become the first Democratic president since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Pettit and Murphy backed Ehrlich and Steele in the election.
The Democrats didn't figure on such people as William Poinsette, a financial adviser who is one of a growing number of young blacks registering as independents, not Democrats. Poinsette said he heard things from Ehrlich and Steele he didn't hear from Townsend-Larson.
"The Ehrlich-Steele platform stressed inclusion: everybody coming to the table," Poinsette said.