Mikulski's on her feet again, and in the game
Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski proclaimed it a "great day" for the world and a "very special day" for herself, not necessarily in that order. Either way, it looked like good news for Democrats, which is something of a turnabout after last week's elections, which gave Republicans something to cheer about for the first time in a long while.
Mikulski recalled how, exactly 20 years ago, the world watched the Berlin Wall come down, symbolically ending the Cold War. "I was filled with excitement on that wonderful
day," she said, "because the roots of my own heritage lie in Poland," a former East Bloc nation.
In remarks on the Senate floor, the state's senior Democrat tossed a bouquet to that old cold warrior, Ronald Reagan, whose ticket-splitting blue-collar supporters in Maryland have been Mikulski voters, too.
The senator also announced that on the anniversary of the day that the wall fell, she herself had risen--in this case, from her wheelchair, casting aside a wheeled walker and a protective "Space Boot," to stand on her own two feet for the first time in months.
"This is a big day for me," she declared, her words beamed live to the entire country, like all official proceedings in the Senate chamber, via C-SPAN television.
"Today is the first day in over 124 days since my accident coming out of Catholic Mass where I broke my ankle. This is the first day that I can actually come to the floor of
the Senate and stand up for someone in whom I truly believe" -- in this case, federal District Judge Andre Davis of Baltimore, who was being promoted to the Appeals court.
"I come with no space boot," said the 74-year-old senator, after casting aside the cumbersome footwear that cushioned her healing bones. "I come with no props to hold me up. It is a very big day. So I am very excited about the fact that I am able to do this."
She still needs a walker and a cane to get around, but being able to stand unaided is progress (and an occupational boost for a senator, who are expected to rise to her feet when addressing
Mikulski's "point of personal privilege," as senators call it when they take time during official debate on the Senate floor to talk about whatever they care to talk about, is also positive news for her fellow Maryland Democrats. But it's one more thing that Maryland's Republican Party doesn't need heading into the 2010 elections.
As political scientist Tom Schaller has pointed out, Mikulski's presence on the ticket as a re-election candidate will help lure more Democratic voters to the polls next fall. She remains the most popular Maryland politician, a recent statewide opinion survey confirmed.
That will help other Democratic candidates, in statewide and legislative contests, by boosting Democratic turnout. And that will make things tougher for former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who is considering whether to make a run at unseating Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in what is still a heavily Democratic state.
Mikulski, facing, at the moment, what seems to be very modest Republican opposition, is apparently taking little for granted.
She's continuing to stockpile campaign money. Last weekend she held another 2010 fundraising event, this time in Baltimore.
And she's been working hard to persuade state voters that's she still on the job, despite having missed long stretches since July while she underwent major surgery and prolonged rehabilitation.
She's scheduled to visit a volunteer fire house in Kensington on Thursday, to be applauded for helping produce a $600,000 federal grant for a new hook-and-ladder truck. On Monday, she'll cut a ribbon at a Life Sciences Training Center at the Baltimore City Community College/University of Maryland, Baltimore BioPark in West Baltimore.
Twice in past week, she's been quick off the mark twice, in the process nabbing headlines in the top circulating newspapers in the state -- The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.
She did it in time-honored political fashion-- by demanding official action from the federal government in response to separate investigative stories in local papers.
Mikulski asked Attorney General Eric Holder to help the family of a Baltimore fire cadet killed in a training exercise after The Sun published an expose about the Department of Justice's refusal to pay death benefits. She requested that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood investigate possible safety defects in the capital's Metro subway system after the Post published a report.
That's politics at the most elemental level: basic constituent service. It's also the sort of thing that gives a diligent incumbent yet another built-in advantage at re-election time.