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Politics 2010: The Pelosi legacy -- the good, the bad and the ugly

By
NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International
Love her or hate her, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was a force to be reckoned with during her tenure as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg
Love her or hate her, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was a force to be reckoned with during her tenure as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo

Love her or hate her, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was a force to be reckoned with during her tenure as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Demonized by the Republican Party as a key player in the U.S. economic malaise, Pelosi polarized the left, right and middle by her work as a legislator then as leader of the lower chamber.

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One political observer called her legacy "an interesting paradox."

"Her legacy on policy is substantial," said Steven Schier, political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and national political commentator. "But it's really bad for her politically, at least in the short term."

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Pelosi, who has represented San Francisco since 1987 and championed energy causes, made history in the House in November 2002 when Democrats elected her as the first woman to lead a major political party. She made history again in 2007 when she was elected speaker.

She shepherded through the House some of the biggest -- and most controversial -- pieces of domestic legislation in decades, Schier said, including reform for healthcare and financial systems, the financial rescue packages and the economic stimulus bill.

"She operated in a partisan way, but she produced a lot of policy," he said. "Unfortunately a lot of it was blockaded in the Senate."

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"Her impact's big," Schier said. "She pursued a liberal Democratic agenda with some remarkable success."

But the Republicans' sweeping wins on Election Day that led to their reclaiming the House leadership, at least in the near term, "is a public repudiation of her policy accomplishments," he said.

CNN reported opposition candidates and their backers poured more money into commercials running against Pelosi in a midterm election than any other congressional leader since Newt Gingrich. More than $65 million was spent on 161,203 ads around the country tying Pelosi to Democratic candidates.

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And they worked. The GOP claimed about 60 new seats, pending unresolved races.

"In 1996, Gingrich was targeted in a similar fashion, but in the 1996 election spending represented about a third of what is spent now, so it's possible as a percentage the total spent against Gingrich would be similar to that spent against Pelosi, but her image was used in a negative way on an unprecedented scale," said Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Meanwhile, Politico reported Pelosi is "the single largest fundraiser for congressional Democrats: $65 million in the 2008-10 cycle, and $231 million overall since 2002."

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Soon to be out of power, House Democrats are trying to map their future, an exercise that could prove problematic, The Washington Post reported. Pelosi, 70, announced her intention to remain the party's leader and so far is unchallenged, but the second-in-command's position is contested by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest ranking black representative.

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Moderates who survived the Nov. 2 midterm elections hope to keep Hoyer's voice in a leadership role because they view him as a bridge between themselves and the liberal wing. Meanwhile, the more than 40 members of the Congressional Black Caucus do not want Clyburn ejected.

For her part, Pelosi has remained neutral in the Clyburn-Hoyer tilt.

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Shortly after passage of healthcare reform legislation, Pelosi was called the "most powerful woman in American history" by The Economist -- a moniker she told ABC News she didn't take personally but "as a compliment for all women."

She defended passage of the healthcare bill over unanimous GOP opposition, saying: "You strive for bipartisanship when you can. ... (But) you cannot let the lack of bipartisanship stand in the way of making this change that is important to the American people."

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