Hoyer's next hurrah

November 12, 2006

Amid all the anticipation over Nancy Pelosi's ascension to the House speakership, often eclipsed and cropped out of the picture is her second in command and fellow Marylander, Steny H. Hoyer, who's also on the verge of fulfilling a cherished ambition.

Mr. Hoyer, 67, of Southern Maryland by way of Prince George's County, has spent his life in politics of one sort or another - beginning with student government in junior high, becoming state Senate president by age 35 and absorbed for the past quarter-century in rising by fits and starts through leadership ranks in the House, where he now serves as minority whip.

But Mr. Hoyer's bid this week to claim the post of majority leader - made available by the Democratic takeover - is threatened by a challenge from John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a longtime ally of Ms. Pelosi's.

Left to their own devices, House Democrats are expected to pick Mr. Hoyer, who has been courting them assiduously - especially the new arrivals, some of whom he recruited and all of whom he went out of his way to help. Ms. Pelosi is under great pressure, though, to weigh into the fight on behalf of her old friend, Mr. Murtha.

She should resist his appeals, mostly because she has nothing to gain by getting in the middle of what is essentially a family squabble, but also because Mr. Hoyer is clearly a better candidate for majority leader than Mr. Murtha.

A behind-the-scenes player who specializes in military spending, the otherwise hawkish Mr. Murtha, 74, made headlines a year ago when he called for an immediate pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq.

But that doesn't qualify him to become a party spokesman on the full range of issues with which the House deals. Nor does it equip him with the detailed catalog of every House Democrat's policy views, political needs, personal eccentricities and district dynamics that Mr. Hoyer has been actively assembling over the past decade.

The term "professional politician" is used as an insult. Some folks, though, have a gift for bringing a diverse assortment of people together to make decisions intended to serve the common good, and they properly pursue that goal as a career.

Mr. Hoyer is among the most talented of such leaders Maryland has ever sent to Washington. He deserves this promotion.

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