Hayes, Himes declare support for Pelosi as opposition collapses
WASHINGTON — Representative-elect Jahana Hayes said Tuesday that she will support Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to be Speaker of the House, one of two Connecticut Democrats to add to what’s shaping up as an acclamation vote Wednesday for the 78-year-old House Democratic leader.
The other was Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who on Monday told CNN that he, too, would support Pelosi, even though he had previously declared his preference for a “new generation” of leadership. Speculation on Pelosi’s future intensified in the wake of Democrats winning back control of the House on Election Day after an eight-year absence.
“The whole attack on leader Pelosi was that you can’t win with Nancy Pelosi,” Himes said. “Well, son of a gun, we won in Oklahoma, Kansas, South Carolina, places we never imagined we would win.”
Hayes, who in January replaces Rep. Elizabeth Esty as the representative of Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, initially endorsed Pelosi in an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday morning.
In an interview in Washington with Hearst Connecticut Media later in the day, Hayes explained her decision as partly the consequence of no one stepping up to oppose Pelosi.
“You can’t beat someone with no one,” she said.
Hayes, 45, who parlayed a national award as Teacher of the Year into a successful campaign against the Democratic Party’s preferred primary candidate and then Republican opponent Manny Santos, said she respected Pelosi’s effectiveness as leader of House Democrats.
“But I was hoping to have a different perspective and leadership style,” she added. “I would absolutely want to see a new generation of leadership.”
Republicans have long used Pelosi as a piñata of sorts to build opposition to Democratic candidates.
With varying degrees of success, they depicted Pelosi as an out-of-touch West Coast liberal devoted to big-government solutions such as the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare. Attacks on Pelosi were accompanied by unflattering pictures of her.
During the campaign, many Democrats distanced themselves from Pelosi to the point of saying they would not vote for her. In Connecticut, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a chief Pelosi lieutenant, worked the phones on her behalf.
But Himes and Hayes held their fire. When Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, endorsed Pelosi and took herself out of the running against her, the door closed and holdouts gradually began to line up beside the veteran leader, who was House Speaker between 2007 and 2011 when Democrats last controlled the House.
Pelosi now is expected to overwhelmingly win when House Democrats gather Wednesday to anoint their leader. With Democrats in the majority as the 116th Congress convenes in January, Pelosi is all but guaranteed the speakership.
In the interview, Hayes said she saw herself as an unabashed progressive not afraid to have “difficult conversations” on issues such as voting rights, education and social justice that she feels were ignored in the Republican-controlled Congress.
But “I am not a Socialist,” she said with a laugh, putting some distance between herself and at least one other newcomer — Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who at 29 will be the youngest woman member of Congress.
The 5th Congressional District takes in most of the state’s northwest corner, but includes urban zones including Danbury and Waterbury, where Hayes grew up in extremely modest circumstances. She credits her success as a teacher of history at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury to government programs, in addition to a lot of inner drive.
“Government is a positive force,” she said. “Government is not the problem.”
Hayes, who is African-American, won in a district that is about 80 percent white, according to U.S. Census data.
While the issue of race remains divisive in the era of “Black Lives Matter,” increasing white supremacism and hostility to undocumented immigrants, Hayes is hopeful that her victory might be evidence that voters have moved beyond race as the deciding factor.
“I will always be a black woman; I couldn’t hide that during the campaign!” she said with a laugh.
But “If someone only sees me as an black woman, they’re missing everything else that I bring,” she added. “I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, a volunteer — all of these other things that I think people in our communities can identify with.”