California’s Clout in Congress Is in Dramatic Decline

The state is losing chairmanships, expertise, and legislative skill — all things crucial to maintaining leverage in Congress.

Rep. Henry Waxman in his Rayburn Building office. 
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
Shane Goldmacher
Jan. 30, 2014, 1:22 p.m.

It wasn’t so long ago that Cali­for­nia’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion prowled the halls of Con­gress as not just the biggest, but the most mus­cu­lar, most seni­or, and most power­ful on Cap­it­ol Hill. Those days are in­creas­ingly in the rear­view mir­ror.

Rep. Henry Wax­man’s an­nounce­ment that he was call­ing it quits after four dec­ades capped a series of de­par­tures that prom­ises to leave the once-vaunted del­eg­a­tion de­pleted and di­min­ished head­ing in­to the next Con­gress.

Cali­for­nia will have lost a com­bined total of more than 400 years of con­gres­sion­al ex­per­i­ence between the 2012 and 2014 elec­tions — an enorm­ous sum in an in­sti­tu­tion where seni­or­ity is king and power is of­ten still ac­cu­mu­lated by the dec­ade.

“It’s a big hit for Cali­for­nia,” said Rep. Linda Sanc­hez, D-Cal­if. “It’s a chan­ging of the guard.”

It’s not just the years walk­ing out the door but the politi­cians them­selves. Wax­man has been one of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s lead­ing le­gis­lat­ors for a gen­er­a­tion. Re­tir­ing Rep. Buck McK­eon is the in­flu­en­tial Re­pub­lic­an chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. And Rep. George Miller, one of House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi’s closest con­fid­antes and a main­stay of shap­ing the na­tion’s edu­ca­tion policies, is headed for the exit after 40 years.

That bi­par­tis­an trio — all of whom an­nounced their re­tire­ments this month — leaves be­hind a com­bined cen­tury of ser­vice in the House.

“We’re los­ing seni­or­ity. We’re los­ing ex­pert­ise. We’re los­ing le­gis­lat­ive skills,” said Bill Car­rick, a long­time Cali­for­nia polit­ic­al strategist, who also worked in Wash­ing­ton D.C. for Sen. Ed­ward Kennedy. “It’s a tough thing to re­place.”

And one of the biggest shoes could still be yet to drop. The back-to-back de­par­tures of Wax­man and Miller, two top Pelosi lieu­ten­ants, have again stirred spec­u­la­tion that the San Fran­cisco Demo­crat could be next. Pelosi has re­peatedly said she’s stay­ing put, and has star­ted the pa­per­work to run again.

But the Cali­for­nia ex­odus began in the 2012 cycle when a spate of re­tire­ments, elect­or­al de­feats, and new dis­trict bound­ar­ies decim­ated the del­eg­a­tion. The fresh­man class of 2014 in­cluded a re­mark­able 14 Cali­for­ni­ans.

They re­placed in­flu­en­tial law­makers such as Reps. Howard Ber­man, a past Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee; Dav­id Dreier, the Rules Com­mit­tee chair­man; Jerry Lewis, a former Ap­pro­pri­ations chair­man; and Dan Lun­gren, who was “may­or” of the Cap­it­ol as chair­man of the Ad­min­is­tra­tion pan­el.

“It does im­pact Cali­for­nia and our abil­ity to in­flu­ence and get what we need,” said Sanc­hez, though she praised the fresh en­ergy of the “new blood.”

Cali­for­nia still has the biggest squad­ron of law­makers on Cap­it­ol Hill. The 38 Demo­crats who com­prise the state’s 53-mem­ber del­eg­a­tion are great­er in num­ber than any oth­er single state’s en­tire House co­hort. But what Cali­for­nia has in size, it lacks in unity. The no­tori­ously frac­tious del­eg­a­tion is barely on speak­ing terms.

Even as a his­tor­ic drought has left the state parched for wa­ter, Sanc­hez couldn’t re­mem­ber the last time Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans all gathered in the same room to strategize about Cali­for­nia’s com­mon needs. “That’s a good ques­tion,” she said. “I’m not sure.”

“We have a very large del­eg­a­tion, and if there were more co­oper­a­tion Cali­for­nia would be bet­ter po­si­tioned to tackle the prob­lems of the state,” Sanc­hez said.

Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, who chairs the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat­ic del­eg­a­tion, which meets weekly, said she’s “got to the point” where she’s tired of “try­ing to ex­plain why we didn’t meet” as a bi­par­tis­an group. Re­la­tions are so bad that Lof­gren was point­ing to a re­cent bi­par­tis­an gath­er­ing over glasses of wine, or­gan­ized by Cali­for­nia fresh­men, as a pos­it­ive “first step.”

“Three Re­pub­lic­ans showed up,” she said, with a wisp of hope.

Cali­for­nia is not without key posts in Con­gress. The state still has two of the most seni­or U.S. sen­at­ors, Di­anne Fein­stein and Bar­bara Box­er. There’s Pelosi and Rep. Xavi­er Be­cerra in the House Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship. Rep. Kev­in Mc­Carthy is the ma­jor­ity whip. GOP Rep. Dar­rell Issa is the Over­sight chair­man. Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters is the rank­ing Demo­crat on Fin­an­cial Ser­vices. Sanc­hez is the top Demo­crat on Eth­ics. And law­makers from the state hold sway on nu­mer­ous sub­com­mit­tees.

But Cali­for­nia mem­bers already held most of those po­s­i­tions in ad­di­tion to the va­cated slots of the de­par­ted and de­part­ing mem­bers.

Car­rick said the ef­fects of the de­par­tures could be par­tic­u­larly acute be­cause of the con­gres­sion­al polit­ics of state del­eg­a­tions. “Even though we have a lot of mem­bers of Con­gress, we en­gender a lot of jeal­ousy,” he said, “… be­cause people in smal­ler and me­di­um states — they take the at­ti­tude that we can’t give Cali­for­nia everything.”

What We're Following See More »
ON THE CALL: “AT LEAST THAT WAS SACRED”
Gen. Kelly Rips Rep. Wilson for Criticism
9 hours ago
THE LATEST
GOP FORMER PRES V. GOP CURRENT PRES
Bush Slams Trump, Implicitly
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS
AMENDMENT WOULD HAVE PREVENTED CONSIDERATION
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Source:
MEETING WITH SENATE GOP
Trump to Hill Next Tuesday
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS
INTERVIEWED BY COMMITTEE STAFF
Lewandowski Meets with Senate Intelligence Committee
15 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login