NY 27: Why does Bush Dog Brian Higgins Hold This Overwhelmingly Democratic Seat?

by: Matt Stoller

Mon Aug 13, 2007 at 13:48

The working conservative majority thesis implies that we must convert or defeat conservative Democrats in vulnerable districts.  One such politician is Brian Higgins in New York's 27th.  There's an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage in the district, with 207,734 Democrats to 123,544 Republicans, and Gore beat Bush in 2000 by 14 points.  It's a district that encompasses a good deal of Buffalo and some of its suburbs, and Higgins comes from a labor background, which fits the district well.  The AFL-CIO pushed him over the top in 2004, one of the few pickups for Democrats that year, and he enjoyed very strong support from the New York Democratic Party in a crowded primary.

As a politician, Higgins lives on local pork and a DLC voting record.  He's a member of the New Democrat coalition, he voted for the FISA wiretapping expansion, and he voted for the Bankruptcy Bill in 2005.  His instincts lean hawkish, but he can be pushed around by House leadership.  Higgins looks to me like a young local politician with familial roots in the district, but no particular aptitude to lead.  He's one of the least powerful House members in the New York delegation, with little understanding of what leading in Congress means.

He's not a bad guy, but he is one of 41 Democrats that voted to shred the Constitution.  These are my initial impressions from calling around and doing some Google-ing. 

New Yorkers, please feel free to chime in.  I could be reading this wrong.

UPDATE:  Rochester Turning has more.

Matt Stoller :: NY 27: Why does Bush Dog Brian Higgins Hold This Overwhelmingly Democratic Seat?

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Agreed - Now what about the Democratic Nomination? (4.00 / 3)

With much respect for the content of this post and with hearty approval of prior attempts to oust the "working conservative majority" (Tauscher, Wynn), why oh why can't we apply this strategy in the presidential primaries?  If it is within the proper bounds of progressive discourse to call a sitting Democratic House member a "coward" (and I believe it is), why not mobilize the netroots against presidential candidates who pose a serious threat to the nascent progressive realignment?  As I just wrote on my diary page, isn't it just as important to keep the Democratic Party from shooting itself in the foot as it is to support a particular progressive candidate? 

Rudy is a Tyrant

Primary challenge (0.00 / 0)
Could stiffen his spine and move him left.

I'm not sure who exactly should get challenged over the FISA bill, but at least one or two Dems should have to defend their nominations to make examples of them.

Whine not a New Yorker.... (0.00 / 0)
I think that it's a mistake to interpret the overwhelming Democratic registration advantage as a suppressed liberal population.  I'm guessing that this is a typical Rust Belt area with a large Catholic population whose Democratic base is going to be economically progressive in a populist sort of vein while culturally conservative-leaning, the sort of reversal of the DLC that I think is a more accurate representation of the centrist portion of the Democratic left-center coalition.

Higgins is supposed to be a somewhat vulnerable Democratic incumbent in a region that has elected Republican Congressmen such as Bill Paxon and Jack Quinn.  Republicans there seem to be from the non-religios conservative wing of the GOP.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

But (4.00 / 1)
it doesn't sound like these are people who want to be spied on without warrants either.

John McCain opposes the GI Bill.

[ Parent ]
Higgins is just spooked (4.00 / 4)
I grew up about 20 minutes north of his district and the city limits, in the Town of Tonawanda (Slaughter).

Higgins is the way he is because he's generally always spooked over the prospect of what happened in 2004. He acted like open seat was his, but didn't win the primary easily, and had a recount election with generally bleh Naples running against him (while Kerry won by 8), then the son of Jack Quinn (Higgins' predecessor) and Jim Kelly (our star QB) made noises about running in '06. You can even hear caution in his carefully measured languages in his press conferences or check-presenting speeches. He's so damn cautious because he went to Buff State, he's been in Buffalo politics since the 1980s, his father was in county politics, and yet he had trouble.

But he's beloved because he's there on every home issue. He got the Niagara Power Authority to give their fair share of profits to the area, working on getting a new Peace Bridge up, Bass Pro, the new downtown casino, and money to develop the downtown waterfront. He's not powerful, but he takes care of his home base, and everyone's happy because Clinton, Schumer and Spitzer are big national names. He's economically progressive enough to be smart, like Jack Quinn was, to take care of a heavily unionized base and the city policeman unions helped Quinn win re-election.

My parents and everyone else love him because he's on every issue on the front page of the Buffalo News, not "grandstanding" like Schumer. The way to primary him is to find someone who's actually gotten results on local issues, because every WNYer's biggest gripe is that our local issues have been the same for the last 15 years. And who's strong with unions.

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Second termer (0.00 / 0)
Higgins barely won election in a district represented by a Republican for years.  Last time he coasted.  Jim Costa in California has a similar profile.  I'm from NJ but I would think that NY-29 would be a bigger local issue than NY-27.  Once Eric Massa takes that seat, however, Higgins may be entrenched.  BTW, 17 of NY state's 23 Democratic seats were won with at least 70% of the general election vote.

[ Parent ]
Illinois' version (4.00 / 1)
I'd encourage everyone to also look into Illinois' version of this phenomena, Dan Lipinski. (A couple of starting points are here, here, and here.) Lipinski voted against setting a timetable in Iraq, for the Iraq supplemental, against overturning Bush's veto of the stem cell act, and for FISA. All this with a PVI of +10.3 that includes parts of Chicago.


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