Hold up there, pardner! There’s some insurgent grumbling out there among rank-and-file House Republicans over why so many Texans look like shoo-ins for committee chairmanships in the next Congress. And there are even louder complaints about Michiganders.
Texans can at least point to being the largest single-state bloc in the GOP Conference: 23 of the Lone Star State’s 32-strong House delegation are Republicans. Only eight of the Great Lake State’s 15 House members are Republicans, yet a fourth Michigander could ascend to a chairmanship in the 113th Congress.
"And that’s a blue state,” gripes one senior House staffer, referring to Michigan’s trending Democratic in presidential voting.
The House Republicans’ postelection process of choosing who will fill key committee posts in the next Congress is just a couple of weeks away (it will probably occur the week of Nov. 26). A steering committee controlled by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio will decide behind closed doors whom to recommend to the full Republican Conference. A handful will be selected by Boehner himself.
The party leaders typically consider a range of factors in determining committee chairmen, some of them having little to do with expertise in the subject matter or committee seniority. Those can include success in fundraising for the party, the calling-in of political chits, and personal friendships. At stake for aspirants can be control of huge budgets for committee staff, higher national profiles, and access to some big-time campaign donations.
What’s grating on some non-Texans and non-Michiganders are news reports—including this week's in National Journal—that several of the openings are already all but sewn up. Not all of the 21 House committees will have a changeover in chairmen, but among those that will, many of the choices are already made for some of the highest-profile openings, sources say.
For instance, multiple sources cited say that House Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas will get the Financial Services Committee’s reins. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, also of Texas, reportedly is poised to take over the Rules Committee chairmanship from the retiring Rep. David Dreier of California.
There is also talk that Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who is barred by internal GOP term limits from continuing as chairman of the Judiciary Committee next Congress, is considered a favorite over Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Dana Rohrabacher of California to succeed Texan Ralph Hall as chairman of the Science Committee.
None of the speculation or complaining even focuses on the subcommittees on which Texans may emerge as chairmen. Yet 10 hold such positions.
Meanwhile, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas is considered one of the at least three aspirants for the Homeland Security Committee’s gavel. But multiple sources say Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan may have the edge—even over Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. Both McCaul and Rogers have more committee seniority over Miller, with Rogers one rung above McCaul. Several sources say the stars are aligning for Miller at least in part because without her, there would be a dearth of Republican chairwomen (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida must depart her perch atop the Foreign Affairs Committee because of term limits).
If Miller wins the Homeland Security gavel, she would become the fourth Michigander leading a key committee, joining Reps. Fred Upton on Energy and Commerce, Dave Camp on Ways and Means, and Michigan's Mike Rogers on Intelligence.
In defending Texas, several House sources noted that it will otherwise lose some clout. For example, Hensarling is expected to give up his No. 4-ranked slot of conference chairman (and others are already jockeying to replace him), and fellow Texan John Carter is not returning to his conference secretary post.
This has some members of other states saying, “So what?”
“When does the idea of putting the best-qualified people in as chairmen of committees come in?” asked one top-level aide, dismissing any notion that the state with the largest contingent should automatically have a leadership position or that Republicans must have some chairwomen.
“I thought this wasn’t Tom DeLay’s House anymore,” said one senior aide to a non-Texan, referring to the former majority leader from the Lone Star state. A Boehner spokesman would not comment on the griping.
Some of the disenchantment is directed at Sessions, who, along with heading the NRCC, is vice chairman of the Rules Committee, making his potential progression to chairman seem natural. The Rules Committee is a panel whose leader is chosen by the speaker himself.
Multiple House Republican sources say some members believe that Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, Natural Resources Committee chairman and a former Rules Committee member, is a stronger contender better suited for the Rules job, including in temperament.
“The chairman [Hastings] will respect the speaker's decision,” was the only comment Hastings’s spokeswoman, Jenny Gorski, would make.
To be sure, some folks say that Texans have a good case for strong representation at the top of committees and that Boehner and House Republican leaders are better off not messing with Texas.
“Texas has always had a disproportionate share of leadership positions, dating from the 1930s and 1940s,” reminds Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson, even if that reality has its roots in the state sending more Democrats to Congress historically.
The state’s politics certainly has shifted since then, and the likes of Reps. Dick Armey and DeLay rose to top House leadership posts. Although they and their clout are gone, the state still plays a key role in Republicans holding the House majority. And that has kept Texans holding a continued sense of “entitlement,” Jillson said. “After all, everything in Texas is big.”
Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed: “We do represent the largest number of Republicans in the House.”