Rep. Steny Hoyer (D)
Elected: May 1981, 14th full term.
Born: June 14, 1939, New York, NY .
Education: U. of MD, B.S. 1963, Georgetown U., J.D. 1966.
Family: Widowed; 3 children.
Elected office: MD Senate, 1966–78, Pres., 1975–78.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1966–80; MD Bd. of Higher Educ., 1978–81.
The congressman from the 5th District is Steny Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader and the second-most-powerful leader in the U.S. House, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was first elected to the seat in 1981, and in June 2007, he became the longest-serving member of Congress from Maryland.
|Steny Hoyer (D)||253,854||(74%)||($3,435,232)|
|Collins Bailey (R)||82,631||(24%)||($27,681)|
|Darlene Nicholas (Lib)||7,829||(2%)|
|Steny Hoyer (D)||90,513||(83%)|
|James Cusick (D)||19,067||(17%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (83%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (69%), 2000 (65%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (57%), 1994 (59%), 1992 (53%), 1990 (81%), 1988 (79%), 1986 (82%), 1984 (72%), 1982 (80%), 1981 (55%)
Hoyer is of Danish descent. His first name, he says, was his parents’ adaptation of the Danish name Steen. He grew up in New York City, but moved from place to place with his mother and stepfather, who was in the Air Force. When Hoyer was in high school, his stepfather was transferred from Florida to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Hoyer graduated from the University of Maryland, where in 1959 he listened to Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy deliver a campaign speech that inspired him to switch his major from public relations to political science. While working on his law degree at Georgetown University in Washington, Hoyer interned one summer with Democratic Sen. Daniel Brewster. Another intern in Brewster’s office that summer was young Nancy D’Alesandro, a Baltimore native who later married and became Nancy Pelosi. In 1966, just after graduating from law school, Hoyer was elected to the Maryland Senate, at age 27. He was Senate president from 1975-78, the youngest person to hold that post in Maryland history. In 1978, he ran for lieutenant governor on a losing ticket. In 1981, after incumbent Gladys Spellman was incapacitated by a heart attack, the 5th District seat was declared vacant. Hoyer won the special election, edging out Spellman’s husband and several other Democrats in the primary and beating a well-financed Republican in the general. The district then was entirely in Prince George’s County. That campaign launched Hoyer’s long-standing friendship with then-Rep. Tony Coelho of California, who then chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Hoyer has fine political instincts, works hard, and can speak in an old-fashioned, patriotic style that is genuinely moving. A fast riser in Maryland politics, he was also a fast riser in Congress. He excelled at constituency service and won a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where he worked with Republicans and became a champion for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He once chaired the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Subcommittee, which oversaw several major components of the federal workforce and the White House budget. He has been an advocate of more spending for education programs and better pay and benefits for federal workers. He was the chief House sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which outlawed discrimination against the disabled. As ranking minority member on the House Administration Committee, he took the lead in crafting bipartisan election reform legislation and in enhancing security in the Capitol complex. When the political parties in the House became more polarized in the late 1990s, Hoyer initiated monthly lunches with Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who was then the chief deputy whip for the Republican majority. On September 11, 2001, it was Hoyer’s idea to have lawmakers gather in front of the Capitol in a show of strength. The group spontaneously sang “God Bless America,” an image captured vividly on television on a dark day in U.S. history.
His voting record is relatively moderate among Democrats, and less liberal than when he represented a near-black-majority district in the 1980s. He broke with the party by supporting the balanced budget amendment in 1995; he backed many of the free-trade initiatives of recent years that organized labor opposed, including the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement. In October 2002, he voted to authorize military action in Iraq. Later he argued that the George W. Bush administration didn’t send enough troops to Iraq and that the United Nations “has shirked its own responsibility.” He is a former chairman of the Helsinki Commission and has been a champion of human rights around the world. On the district front, Hoyer has pushed for funding for Chesapeake Bay cleanup and for dredging the bay for Baltimore harbor. He has worked shrewdly to maintain and increase the number of jobs at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head. Another of his projects was getting the National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction based in College Park.
In 1989, Hoyer won his first leadership post as chairman of the Democratic Caucus. When he tried to move up to the job of majority whip in 1991, he lost, 160-109, to David Bonior of Michigan, who had the support of liberals and committee chairmen. Hoyer became chairman of the Democratic Steering Committee and has been the parliamentarian at four Democratic conventions. In 2001, Bonior, faced with unfavorable redistricting changes at home, decided to run for governor of Michigan. Both Hoyer and Pelosi sought to replace him as minority whip. Hoyer argued that he had greater experience in leadership positions and could do a better job of unifying the caucus. Pelosi had more publicly committed votes going into the October 2001 Democratic Caucus election, and she won 118-95. (Both did less well than predicted, as often happens in secret-ballot leadership contests.)
Although he was a two-time loser of leadership contests, Hoyer was undeterred when Missouri’s Dick Gephardt stepped down as minority leader in 2002. With Pelosi running to succeed Gephardt as leader, Hoyer ran for minority whip. He collected commitments for months and was elected unanimously. In that position, it was his job to be partisan, and he often was. In 2004, after 11 Democrats voted for a parliamentary rule to consider the corporate tax bill, Hoyer sent a letter to all House Democrats admonishing them for supporting a procedure that prevented Democrats from offering amendments. This was standard. In the majority, both House Democrats and Republicans have taken a dim view of members of their party who buck their leadership on procedural issues. Since 1997, the two parties had had an ethics truce in which they promised not to file politically inspired ethics complaints against the other party’s members and leaders. But in 2004, Hoyer called for consideration of complaints that powerful Republican Tom DeLay allegedly offered undue inducements to Republican Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan to vote for the Medicare prescription drug bill. At election time, Hoyer contributed to and campaigned tirelessly for Democratic House candidates.
The 2006 election rated as a stellar moment for Hoyer. It marked the culmination of four decades of political effort and left him well positioned to wield great influence in the House and within the party. In Maryland, he could take some credit for the successful Senate campaign of longtime friend Ben Cardin, for whom he was an early backer, to the dismay of former House colleague Kweisi Mfume and his backers. Nationally, Hoyer worked closely with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel to help Democrats running against Republican incumbents. In the two years preceding the election, he made at least 316 campaign stops in 80 districts in 33 states and raised more than $8 million for candidates and the DCCC. In September 2006, he predicted a gain of 30 House seats, which turned out to be right on the money. “We have close to 50 extraordinarily good candidates,” he told National Journal’s CongressDaily. Many of the freshmen subsequently credited the help Hoyer provided, especially those from swing districts where liberal Democratic leaders are not always welcome. Lost amid the euphoria were the occasional criticisms from liberal activists that Hoyer was an old-style pol and a Washington insider, with close ties to the lobbying community.
But right after the election, Hoyer waged a bitter 10-day contest for the coveted job of majority leader against Pennsylvania’s John Murtha, who was the chosen candidate of Hoyer’s old nemesis, Pelosi, who was about to rise to speaker. A defense hawk, Murtha had become an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, while Hoyer supported the war effort, and Murtha contended that he could work better with Pelosi. Hoyer had little choice but to speak positively about his long-standing relationship with her—he calls her a “favorite daughter” of Maryland—and their success in largely unifying an often-unruly party. But he left no doubt about his dismay over her arm-twisting on Murtha’s behalf. In spite of Pelosi’s efforts for Murtha, Hoyer prevailed 149-86, a powerful endorsement for him. Democrats responded to his “ability, patience, know-how, and experience,” said a Democratic lobbyist. Even more impressive, Hoyer won the support of many California Democrats who previously had been unified behind Pelosi and of numerous prospective committee chairmen who doubted Murtha’s ability to do the job. “Nancy thought she could put these people away because of pressure,” Coelho told The New York Times. “But these people that got elected understand relationships, and they’re not going to flip away because of pressure. [Hoyer] has a tremendous capacity for friendship, and when you have that, people don’t flake off on you.”
As majority leader, Hoyer assumed responsibility for determining the floor schedule, helping guide Democratic initiatives to passage, and holding weekly press briefings. He describes his recipe for holding together what has historically been a fissiparous caucus this way: “First of all work very hard on communications, find out what people can do and can’t do. Secondly, put together a consensus that, while it may not be the first choice of everybody, it is a choice they can live with.” And for the most part the record justifies his boast that House Democrats, in their first two years in the majority, were “the most unified the Democratic Party has been in over half a century.” Hoyer also kept in close touch with Blunt, until Blunt dropped out of the Republican leadership in January 2009; they maintained one of the best cross-party relationships on Capitol Hill.
Hoyer did find himself at odds with the majority of Democrats on some issues. He voted for military funding in Iraq and consistently against linking war funding to a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, earning him criticism from the liberal MoveOn.org. And, he worked on the negotiations on changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is a law enforcement tool in catching terrorists, and he backed the version of the legislation releasing telecommunications companies from legal liability for complying with government requests for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens’ communications. Many Democrats did not want to let the companies off the hook.
On domestic issues, Hoyer was a strong supporter of the pay-go rule, which requires that spending increases and tax cuts be “paid for” by corresponding spending decreases or tax increases. He spoke out for maintaining the rule even as many Democrats favored dropping it to give middle-income taxpayers some relief from the alternative minimum tax. In early 2009, working with Pelosi, Hoyer steered to passage the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation, the first major initiative of the Obama administration. Only 11 House Democrats voted against it, and all of the Republicans opposed it. Weeks earlier, Hoyer strongly supported the bailout bill for the financial services industry although he expressed misgivings about the legislation. He also had a hand in the Democrats’ successful efforts to increase the hourly minimum wage and in the adoption of most of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations.
His toughest moment in the 110th Congress (2007-08) came in August 2007, when he urged Democratic Rep. Michael McNulty of New York, who was presiding over the House, to end a vote on limiting aid to illegal immigrants, when Democrats were ahead in the vote count. McNulty declared that the Democrats had prevailed, even though the voting machine lights showed otherwise. The incident was the subject of hearings in May 2008, during which McNulty and Hoyer admitted error. But Hoyer later maintained that the House rule against holding votes open beyond stated time limits was unenforceable.
Hoyer has been among the top 10 House members in securing spending earmarks for his district. He calls earmarks “congressional initiatives,” but he hailed what he termed House Democrats’ “substantial progress” in limiting them. More inclined to defer to committee chairs and hew to regular order than Pelosi is, he supported doing away with term limits for committee chairs, which the Republicans imposed when they were in the majority. Pelosi left term limits in place during the first two years of Democratic rule. (Term limits work to the advantage of the leadership because they make committee chairs less autonomous and therefore less powerful.) At Hoyer’s urging, Pelosi agreed to repeal term limits in late 2008. “I am not for term limits for chairmen,” Hoyer said. “It puts intellect on hold.
On local issues, he worked with Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia and D.C. Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to pass a bill giving the District of Columbia a voting seat in the House. He sponsored bills allowing more government employees to work four-day weeks, granting eight weeks of paid parental leave, and raising the government contribution to federal employees’ health care premiums from 72% to 80%. In the bitterly fought 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Hoyer stayed neutral even after the Maryland primary, which Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won. Obama carried Prince George’s and Charles counties in Hoyer’s district, but he ran only slightly ahead of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in St. Mary’s and Calvert counties.
The last time Hoyer had serious competition in a general election was in 1992, the first election after the district was reconfigured to extend beyond Prince George’s County. He has won easily since then, and he has demonstrated an ability to win the loyalty of African-American voters in Democratic primaries.