Cindi Scoppe on the now-rare ‘loyal opposition’

Cindi Scoppe had a good column in the paper today — one I might have written myself (ironic, self-mocking smiley face).

She was praising Leona Plaugh for attitudes that used to be fairly common among elected officials, but now are alarmingly rare — and practically nonexistent within the District of Columbia.

An excerpt:

Ms. Plaugh, you might recall, helped lead the opposition to Mayor Steve Benjamin’s rush job on the contract the city signed this summer promising tens of millions of dollars in incentives to Bob Hughes in return for his developing the old State Hospital property on Bull Street in accordance with city desires. She criticized the way the deal was rammed through so quickly that people didn’t know what was in it and she criticized what she did know about its contents. And she was happy to repeat those criticisms when she met with us.

But when my colleague Warren Bolton asked her what happens next, she said, essentially, we make it work.

“Once you vote for something and it’s done, it’s done,” she said. “We all need to get on the bandwagon now and hope it’s the best it can be.”

A few minutes later, when she was talking about her surprise at ending up on the losing end of a 2010 vote to turn control of the Columbia Police Department over to the Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, and we asked why she hadn’t brought that idea back up as the department’s woes have mounted, she recalled all the debate and public hearings that had preceded that vote.

“I don’t think you continually go back and harp on things that this council has already voted on,” she explained, “unless someone on the other side is ready to change their position on it.”


Then we got to the city’s decision this spring to purchase the Palmetto Compress warehouse over her objections, and the news in that morning’s paper that a local development group had tentatively agreed to buy the property, at a small profit to the city. And there wasn’t even a hint of sour grapes when she told us, “I hope I lose my bet with the mayor and that that will be a roaring success.”

What put an exclamation point on all of this was the timing. Our conversation with Ms. Plaugh took place at the very moment that what passes for grownups in Washington were racing the clock to reach a can-kicking agreement to keep the federal government out of an elective default. An agreement that we weren’t at all certain they’d be able to sell to their colleagues.

Which is just mind-boggling….

As Cindi went on to say, Leona was expressing the attitude of a member of the loyal opposition, “a concept that no longer exists in Washington, outside the occasional Senate gang, and is falling out of favor at the State House, replaced with open disdain for the idea of even talking with people in the other party, much less accepting defeat and moving on.”

And our republic is much, much worse off for that quality being so rare.

22 thoughts on “Cindi Scoppe on the now-rare ‘loyal opposition’

  1. Doug Ross

    Does she ever end up on the winning side of an issue? Do her colleagues behave the same way when they lose?

    1. Barry

      She’s rarely on the winning side- and the other side rarely loses.

      She apparently tries to make her case as strongly as she can- and when the other side doesn’t agree, she spends her energy trying to make the implementation as effective as possible- instead of wasting her time and effort complaining about a policy that is going to be implemented either way.

        1. Doug Ross

          How is it governing if you are never in the lead position? Sounds like we in the business world would call a middle manager with no direct reports.

          1. Doug Ross

            Hmmm… most politicians can say “I did this” instead of “I lost on this but supported the winners”. Influence without results is just opinion.

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            Doug, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. Politicians who do things just so they can say, “I did this” waste my time, for one thing, and hardly seem the sort you admire. I realize you are rather an Army of One, professionally, but so much in my world gets done through collaboration and mediation.

          3. Doug Ross

            I’d have a tough time giving a resume that didn’t have any accomplishments a second glance. I think I asked a simple question: what has she done? What initiatives has she led to improve Columbia? Shouldn’t that have some bearing on her effectiveness as a representative?

            I guess I expect elected leaders to lead, not cheerlead.

          4. Kathryn Fenner

            i believe her constituents are happy that she fights the good fight, as they see it. They understand the limitations imposed by our unofficially strong mayor and his posse. She’s not a software engineer.

            Her constituents don’t want initiatives. She is the heir of Kirkman Finley, the king of the Island of No.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Leona is a pro, in the best sense of the word, and has a constituency that is generally on the outs with the rest of the city. She is good!

  3. Bryan Caskey

    Put me in the same camp. I was (and still am) against the City getting into the real estate market. However, even though that’s my position, I sincerely hope the City makes a sale and the property is developed in a positive manner. Opposition doesn’t have to equal prolonged trench warfare on every issue. In this instance, I’m against the process (i.e. the City getting involved) not the end in itself (development of the Compress Warehouse in a positive manner that is good for Columbia).

  4. Ralph Hightower

    I have to say that Obama failed in his campaign promise to lead America. In his first campaign, he said that he didn’t want to lead the red states or the blue states. He wanted to lead America. Instead of reigning in Pelosi and Reid, he let them lead the agenda. Obama should’ve told Pelosi and Reid “Work with the Republicans!”

  5. Bryan Caskey

    Todd Walter came by my house this AM doing his door-to-door work. He’s out there working on a Saturday. We chatted for just a second. He seemed happy to be out there.

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