House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer was the featured speaker at the annual Howard County Democratic Party fundraising dinner Thursday night in Clarksville, but Kathy Hochul was the real star.
She's the little-known Democrat who won a special congressional election in an upstate New York district near Buffalo that was considered the safest of safe places for a Republican to run.
Hochul made the Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's House-approved plan to convert Medicare to a voucher system the primary issue and battered her opponents with it. She won a three-way race, becoming the Democrats' newest and brightest political star as they prepare to battle Republicans and tea party conservatives over the presidency and control of Congress next year.
Republicans have played down Hochul's unlikely victory, with some pointing to the 63 seats in Congress the party won last year. They've argued that one small turnout special election proves nothing, but Hoyer didn't get that message.
Addressing a purely partisan crowd eager for good news, Hoyer, the second highest-ranking Democrat in Congress and an elected official in Maryland since 1966, couldn't stop saying Hochul's name.
"Kathy Hochul. You know Kathy Hochul," he told the crowd of about 175 core Democrats, including Hoyer's Maryland congressional partners Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes. "She won a district Tuesday night that no Democrat ever won. Kathy Hochul brought us roaring back Tuesday night. It's a crazy district. McCain won and [George W.] Bush won twice."
Hoyer threw out his prepared remarks attacking Republicans in favor of holding up Hochul's success like a torch for Democrats still reeling from the drubbing the party took in last year's congressional elections.
"I'm going to fight if you're going to eliminate Medicare in this country," Hoyer told the crowd was Hochul's battle cry. "Let Americans see who they elected. Let them see where they want to take this country," Hoyer said. "In the 26th District of New York, the people saw. Independents we lost 2-1 in the last election voted 2-1 for Kathy Hochul. There are 26,000 more Republicans in that district than Democrats. They have seen the agenda of the Republican party."
Hoyer then moved on to President Barack Obama, telling the crowd that the president "faced the toughest challenges of anyone since Abraham Lincoln" when he was elected. Tougher than those faced by Franklin Roosevelt, he said, because Roosevelt was faced with the three-year-old Depression but not two simultaneous wars. Obama raised expectations too high, Hoyer conceded, and has paid a price, but he's also fulfilled promises by getting health care and financial reforms approved by Congress, by saving the American auto industry and preventing the recession from becoming a depression.
Hoyer compared the attitude of Democrats who responded to George W. Bush's call to pass the $700 billion financial relief package to save the big banks to what Republicans say now about working cooperatively with Obama and congressional Democrats.
"What did the Democrats do when the secretary of the treasury and Ben Bernanke said your country needs help?" Hoyer asked. "Democrats stood up in a bi-partisan way to make sure the country didn't fall into a depression. We believe in working together," he said.
"What Kathy Hochul told those people in the 26th District was, 'You were right to have elected Barack Obama president,'" he said."
Democrats want to invest in the future and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, Hoyer said.
"Yes, we can. We need to get fired up and ready to go," he said, using the Obama campaign slogans from 2008. "The Democratic Party will lead this country to better places," he concluded to a standing ovation.
The County Council's redistricting commission held its first public hearing Tuesday night at the Clarksville Volunteer Fire Company, and attendance was underwhelming.
Only one person, Ken Stevens of Columbia, initially signed up to speak, though county Republican Party Chairwoman Loretta Shields and County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a west Columbia Democrat, later testified about the importance of not splitting communities. The session took less than 30 minutes.
Stevens, as he had in past decades, suggested his own set of council district lines. "I see it mainly as tinkering around the edges of what exists," he said. Asked later why he goes to all the trouble when so few other residents seem to care, he had a quick answer. "Because I'm a geek," he said, smiling.