The 'Blue Dog' Factor
Washington is buzzing with speculation about how incoming moderate freshman Democrats like Heath Shuler of North Carolina will change congressional dynamics. The ex-NFL quarterback will be a member of the "blue dogs," a group of budget-cutting Democrats, mostly from southern states, whose ranks will swell from about 37 to 44 in the new Congress. Shuler defeated eight-term Republican incumbent Rep. Charles Taylor in part because Shuler vowed to fight against special interests. He is also a proud Christian who opposes abortion and loves to hunt. But the 35-year-old strongly favors increasing the minimum wage and protecting the environment, and he opposes privatizing Social Security. Shuler spoke with U.S. News about his role in the 110th Congress.
Why did you join the blue dogs?
We are $9 trillion in debt. It is really unacceptable the way this administration and this past Congress have run our government. We have to find a much better way to balance our budget and use tax dollars much more wisely.
Why is the number of moderate Democrats, like the blue dogs, increasing?
In my conservative district, the people in the middle started to speak out. We've had extremes to the right and extremes to the left doing a lot of talking for the rest of the country, and I think most of the people are in the middle. With this election, you started to see working Americans and working families, the middle class, speak out. A lot more people voted on the issues, and fewer people really voted a straight ticket.
Do you think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will work well with the blue dogs and other moderates?
I think she will. She realizes the importance of having that voice in the middle, that moderate Democrat. She has been very easy to work with so far, and I think she certainly realizes and understands how it works politically and realizes what happened this election cycle.
In your campaign, you criticized your opponent's use of earmarks. Will you push for limits on so-called pork-barrel spending?
We certainly need to have checks and balances on our spending. There has to be oversight on earmarks to make sure that it is beneficial for a great number of people in the district. And if we don't have the money, then we don't need to spend the money.
Blue dogs aside, what will you prioritize?
We are striving to bring better jobs to the district, keep our families together here in western North Carolina, and stop outsourcing our jobs. We've lost 78 percent of the textile industries in North Carolina. It's certainly going to be a priority of mine to bring high-quality jobs to the United States and make sure trade agreements are fair to families.
Jobs leaving North Carolina was one thing that led you to politics, right?
There was a factory in Haywood County that had closed down, and I watched a single mom, who had just lost her job because of the effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement, ask how she would raise her two children. I wanted to do what I could to help through my foundation. But as I spoke more about it and asked what I could do to help, people said, 'Heath, you must run for office.'