In a system of divided government, someone has to be in the minority party. It’s probably one of the toughest jobs in politics.
Without your hand on the levers of power, plum committee assignments to allocate or the campaign cash that invariably flows to the party in charge, being in the minority party can be a challenge.
Your political fortunes live or die with how well you are able to negotiate, how eloquently you can make your case to the public and how effectively you can use parliamentary procedure. It’s doubly difficult for the person tasked with organizing the minority party.
Last session that task fell to former House speaker Joe Hackney from Orange County. After years of Democrats in charge, in 2011 they found themselves without control of the speakership and in the small offices at the legislature for the first time in a long time.
Today, after just one term as minority leader, Hackney decided not to seek re-election.
That decision could be due in part to the fact that, like so many others in the minority, he was drawn into the same district as one of his fellow officeholders, thus facing a “double-bunked” situation that requires two allies to compete for one seat. Maybe he was tired of the unpredictability of the legislature and the almost non-existent compensation for those who serve. Perhaps the jab-and-parry nature of minority status wore him out.
The question is now this: Who will carry the torch for Democrats in the next session?
Since redistricting this time was controlled by Republicans, they will have an advantage in the 2012 elections. Barring an extremely energized, well-funded and well-executed campaign by Democrats, chances are they will be in the minority again. So many key legislators who would have succeeded Hackney as their party’s leader are either not returning or running for another office.
Make no mistake, legislative service really is a meat grinder. Regardless of who ends up in the shoes of the minority leader, it’s never a comfortable fit.