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Who are the newly-elected 'Ones to Watch?' Ask #nerdland

Today on Melissa Harris-Perry, our host and guests weighed in with their post-election picks for the "Ones to Watch," concentrating on the newly-elected senator

The ones to watch for 2016

Nov. 11, 201204:44

Today on Melissa Harris-Perry, our host and guests weighed in with their post-election picks for the "Ones to Watch," concentrating on the newly-elected senators, governors, and members of the House of Representatives on whom we should be focusing our attention. Some are surprise winners, some made history just by being elected, and some are already being called future leaders of their party. And some of them, frankly, we just need to keep our eyes on to make sure they don't make a worse mess of Washington.

After hearing the picks of Melissa and ger panel, we on the #nerdland staff thought we'd weigh in with our selections. Find them below.

Eric Salzman, executive producer: Governor-elect Mike Pence (R), Indiana

The anguish of the GOP during the primaries made clear the party’s dilemma: vote with the head, or vote with the heart. Conventional wisdom says the Republican Party believes in "turns." The nominee is the one whose turn it is, often translated by whoever came in second last time -- Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Senator John McCain, and this time, Mitt Romney – George W. Bush being an exception. Add in the so-called "electability" argument and the Republicans went with their heads in 2008. There was no really strong "heart" candidate to choose; they were all flawed in some fundamental way. From Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry, the potential "heart" candidates flamed out, leaving Rick Santorum, never truly beloved by the Tea Party, as the last, but ultimately unsuccessful alternative to Romney.

In 2016, no Republican will have a “turn” claim to make. Paul Ryan fans should look to the last unsuccessful running mate who went on to win the White House and note they have to go all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt. (FDR was elected governor of New York before making his own bid for the presidency.)

And that’s why my “one to watch” is Governor-elect Mike Pence of Indiana. The six-term Congressman had his presidential backers in 2012 and had he chosen to run, may would have been Romney’s staunchest competition for the nomination. But the governorship is a much stronger platform to launch a presidential bid from than the House. Republican pining for Senator Marco Rubio will likely have to run its course, but I can’t wait to see what Mike Pence does as governor of Indiana -- and then, what he does next.

Shanta Covington, segment & booking producer: Senator-elect Angus King (I), Maine

King, 68, is a former two-term governor of Maine. He’ll succeed Senator Olympia Snowe who’s leaving Congress after saying the system was broken and they couldn’t get anything done. Well, now King wants to fix Congress. As an independent, he hasn’t yet decided with which party he’ll caucus when he reaches the Senate. Look for him to be heavily courted by both Democrats and Republicans.

Michelle Cumbo, segment & booking producer: Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp (D), North Dakota

Heitkamp won North Dakota’s Senate race by fewer than 3,000 votes over her opponent, Rick Berg. She will replace retiring Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, her former boss at the North Dakota Tax Commissioner’s office -- and her eventual political inspiration. It was an unlikely victory for the former Attorney General in a state that backed Mitt Romney over President Obama by 20 points, but Heitkamp will become the first female senator from North Dakota when she takes office in January.

She's “one to watch” because as North Dakota’s Attorney General, she helped pass tougher sexual predator laws, revamped the state’s juvenile justice laws and improved the anti-domestic violence system. Heitkamp also lead the state’s efforts against big tobacco companies that lead to a settlement bringing $336 million to North Dakota for programs to reduce teen smoking.  She has also been aggressive on Native American issues, preserving the Indian healthcare improvement act, working on housing and education issues within the Native American Community. Heitkamp is also a breast cancer survivor. She credits her grandmother, who grew up under President Franklin Roosevelt, with her decision to become a Democrat.

Traci Curry, segment producer: Congressman-elect Hakeem Jeffries (D), New York

Washington, DC-area commuters may want to get used to seeing a new face hanging around Metro stations on Capitol Hill. That’s because, for newly minted Congressman-Elect Hakeem Jeffries, subway stops have long been a favorite spot for taking the pulse of the public.  It’s where I first encountered him when he was running for New York’s State Assembly six years ago. And it’s also the place where he continued communing with constituents after he was elected with his annual Summer at the Subways: Evening Office Hours. Every summer over the last six years, on Tuesdays and Wednesday evenings, there he’d be -- right outside one of the subway stations in Brooklyn’s Assembly District 57, waiting to hear what commuters ending their workday had to say. Mr. Jeffries’ novel approach to engaging citizens exemplifies his understanding of a seemingly obvious, but all too rare quality in public servants: you are there to serve the public, not the other way around.

Also, Jeffries’ determination to move the mark on the policies that have disproportionately affected New York’s black and Latino youth resulted in legislation that would reduce the number of people arrested after a stop-and-frisk.  With the backing of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, Jeffries succeeded in decriminalizing low-level visible marijuana possession, and taking some of the teeth out of stop-and-frisk.

As congressman for New York’s 8th Congressional District, Jeffries has pledged to help homeowners struggling avoid foreclosure and survive the mortgage crisis, and I’m looking forward to the work he’ll do on their behalf. But now that he’s a congressman, Mr. Jeffries may find himself too busy in his office on Capitol Hill to make time for his old open air office by the subway. Either way, I have no doubt that this one to watch will be on the fast track, so to speak.

Kathleen Osborn, segment producer: Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D), Massachusetts

Because if you aren’t already watching her, it is high time.

Warren is the woman who brought some semblance of accountability to the finance industry. She oversaw the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act -- known more commonly as the financial bailout -- which helped bring our economy back from the brink. Warren once said she was willing to shed “blood and teeth on the floor” in her fight to create the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, and got it done.

Warren is the woman who ran on this sentiment: "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody ... You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless -- keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

And I think we can count on her to legislate accordingly.

Jamil Smith, segment & digital producer: Senator-elect Ted Cruz (R), Texas

I used to work in sports, and as such, speculation about "ones to watch" is reminiscent of the yearly NFL draft. Prospects are theorized about, examined, poked and prodded, all in the hopes that a general manager -- or, better yet, a sports pundit -- will make the right choice, and look really smart when that collegiate prospect experiences success (or failure, depending upon the prediction) on the professional level. If someone can say, "I told you so," since that's what matters most to people who get paid to talk for a living. It's all about the hype.

It's no different in politics. That's why even if you don't know one policy position espoused by Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz, you likely know that there is a Ted Cruz. To call the Harvard Law graduate a Tea Party darling would be an understatement. Cruz, 42, is beloved by fiscal and social conservatives alike, largely because he is thought to lend an intellectual credulity to far-Right policy positions that normally lose elections for people who articulate them less skillfully.

According to Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, he's "the Republican Barack Obama." That is a terrifying prospect, considering his Rick Perry-like desire to make the federal government more like that in Texas. (In the interest of brevity, I'll refer you to Timothy Murphy's recent Cruz profile in Mother Jones.) Frankly, Cruz is "one to watch" because none of us afford to take our eyes off of him.

Lorena Ruiz, associate producer: Congressman-elect Alan Grayson (D), Florida

Representative-elect Grayson was once Representative Grayson, having been first elected to the House in 2008. He is known for his outspoken (and auto-tuned!) defense of health care reform. He was ousted in 2010 during the Tea Party wave, but regained his seat on Tuesday by a 25-point margin. Grayson was already a fighter for progressive causes in his previous term, and I expect him to emerge as a strong voice for the Democrats in his next term. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Grayson laid out his wish list for the next four years, which included “full employment, progressive taxation, universal (and not just affordable) health care, and peace.”

Katherine Guthrie, production assistant: Congresswoman-elect Ann McLane Kuster (D), New Hampshire

Congresswoman-elect Kuster brings a perspective that has been lacking in D.C. -- that of someone who has worked extensively alongside the health care and non-profit sectors.

Kuster served as a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and maintained a private adoption practice for 25 years, during which she worked with women of varying ages, economic status, and health care access; “I represented women with unplanned pregnancies from age 14 to 40, and they range from living in their car to living in the nicest neighborhoods in town,” she said. She played an instrumental role in creating the New Hampshire Medication Bridge Program, which works to ensure low-income earners’ access to medication, and has worked on behalf of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire. Kuster believes in strengthening our preventative care system and her extensive work with women’s groups suggests that she could become a driving force behind strengthening our health care system and addressing our country’s embarrassing maternal mortality rate.

Melissa interviewed Kuster on Sunday's show. See the interview below.

Ashley Freeman, intern: Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D), Hawaii

Political analysts are still studying the impact of minorities who voted in the 2012 election. Latinos, youth, and African Americans were expected to be deciding factors. Noticing this, both parties aimed advertisements, stops on the campaign trail, and policies towards these key demographics. It was seen on paraphernalia and social media -- “Women for Mitt” buttons; a @Students4Obama Twitter domain. But there is one group of minorities to whom we forgot to pay attention: those on the ballot!

One of those minorities -- Tulsi Gabbard, who was originally born on American Samoa and ran to represent Hawaii's 2nd Congressional district -- won her race on Tuesday. This is less a surprise than a mere addition to Gabbard's already impressive resume. When she was 21 Gabbard became the first woman to be elected to state legislature and the first woman to be nominated for a “distinguished honor graduate” from the Alabama Military Academy. Also, she voluntarily deployed to Iraq with the medical unit in 2004. She and her father founded the Healthy Hawaii Coalition, an environmental-education nonprofit for students to learn about how humans can impact the environment. When in Congress she plans to focus on energy and environmental issues. Gabbard has also said that she hopes her faith will help cultivate good ties with India.

And to boot, Gabbard will be the first Hindu-American ever elected to U.S. Congress. After she is sworn into office on the Bhagavad Gita, she is definitely one to keep your eye on if you haven’t already.