Frank Pallone, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Face of the National Democratic Party


At this point, anybody who denies that this midterm election constituted a Blue Wave is either self-deluding, a prevaricator, or a political fool. 

Two weekends before the election, I appeared on the NJTV show, On the Record, and predicted that the Democrats would win control of the US House of Representatives in the midterm elections with a net gain of 30-35 seats. The Democrats have exceeded my expectations, thus far registering a net gain of 37 seats that may well soon increase to 40. Most remarkably, the Democrats won all the House seats representing Orange County, California, traditionally a bedrock of conservative Republicanism.  

New Jersey Democrats received a special benefit from the Blue Wave, aside from the four House seats they picked up. Representative Frank Pallone will now become the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which considers approximately sixty percent of all legislation deliberated by the House. 

The extent of the Blue Wave was not limited to the House of Representatives. The Democrats picked up seven governorships and gained nationally a total of 336 state legislative seats.

Yet it was the Democratic gain in the House of Representatives that most accurately reflected the fact of this election being a national repudiation of President Donald Trump. The Democrats currently lead in the national popular vote for House seats by seven percent, roughly the same percentage by which the Republicans prevailed in 2010, an election in which the GOP registered a net gain of 64 House seats. 

The Democratic House Blue Tsunami can be mostly attributed to national disgust and revulsion with the misogyny, bigotry, and xenophobia of Donald Trump. Otherwise, the healthy economy may well have resulted in the Republicans actually achieving a net gain in House seats. 

Yet there was a positive factor as well that facilitated the Democrats’ success. On the whole, the Democrats ran disciplined campaigns, projecting a center-left face, avoiding the extremist image often exhibited by Progressive Democrats. In American politics, the center almost always holds, and the Democrats now hold the center. The Democrats have an excellent chance of continuing to hold the center, attributable to the overriding fact that due to Donald Trump, the Republican Party is projectingthe ugly face of white nationalism. 

Among the new House members, however, there is one whose efforts, if successful, could move the House Democrats out of the center-left spectrum and give them a socialist extremist image. I refer to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected Democratic socialist representative from Queens who defeated veteran Congressman Joe Crowley in the September primary.

Ocasio-Cortez has taken two extremist positions which are rejected by the overwhelming majority of grassroots Democrats. She is very anti-Israel, a position which if adopted by a significant number of other House members, could result in substantial defections of Jewish voters, one of the major loyal Democratic constituencies. She also has advocated the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, rather than simply reforming its practices. 

Her latest effort is a political assault on one of New Jersey’s major Democratic political players. She is challenging the authority of the aforesaid Congressman Frank Pallone in his new capacity as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair.  

Ocasio-Cortez is demanding that all climate change legislation be first heard by a select committee before being heard by the entire Energy and Commerce Committee. Pallone opposes the creation of such a select committee on the basis that it would delay the passage of climate change legislation, rather than facilitate it.

Ocasio-Cortez has threatened implicitly primary election challenges against Representatives who either 1) refuse to explicitly support her “Green New Deal,” agenda which wouldaimto make the U.S. 100 percent reliant on clean energy in a decade (a totally impracticable goal); or 2) acceptfive-figure donation totals from fossil fuel PACs or employees. Pallone could be the target of an Ocasio-Cortez supported primary election challenge on the basis of either of these two criteria.

I had extensive dealings with Frank Pallone in my capacity as Bush 43 administration Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA. Frank is a man of the center-left, while I am of the center-right. Yet for the most part, our relationship on environmental issues was cooperative. And any effort on the part of Ocasio-Cortez to classify Pallone as not being committed to the environment is pure defamation. 

Frank Pallone would easily withstand any Ocasio-Cortez sponsored primary election challenge. Yet the same may not be true of other Democratic Congressional incumbents.  

At a time when the national Democratic Party is achieving a major strategic advantage over the Republicans, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a totally destructive force from within the party ranks. I have discussed this with major Democratic players on the national level. There is growing support from center-left mainstream Democratic Party players to launch a preemptive political strike against her in the form of a primary election challenge in 2020. I fully expect that this will happen – and that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will lose. 

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.

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