Congressional Changes Expected from Elections

Article excerpt

By Lou Anne Wolfe

Journal Record Staff Reporter

With a postrld War II record for the number of new members of Congress expected to be set by this year's elections, many existing members could be bumped up the seniority ladder quicker than they anticipated, analysts say.

At the same time, however, they're going to have to move swiftly to control what is expected to be a feisty and extrarge "freshman" class.

"It'll be similar to the Watergate class of 1974 _ unruly and very difficult for the established leaders to control, on both sides of the aisle," said Tom Cole, former Oklahoma state senator, state Republican chairman and now executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Political pundits interviewed by The Journal Record predicted anywhere from 115 to 150 new members when Congress convenes in January. The current postrld War II record for congressional newcomers occurred in 1948, when 118 fresh faces arrived in Washington, D.C., Cole said. There are 435 total members of the House of Representatives, and 100 in the Senate.

House members serve for two years, and they all come up for reection at the same time. Senators serve sixar terms which are staggered.

"We're looking at milegh levels here," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, D.C.

In a typical year, one might expect 25 to 30 members to retire and a handful of incumbents to lose their party primaries, he said.

This year, about 19 incumbent legislators lost their party primaries, another postr record, Rothenberg said. To compare, 18 incumbents were defeated in the 1946 primaries, six in 1980, 10 in 1982, three in 1984, two in 1986, one in 1988 and one in 1990.

Dominated by the House banking scandal, the possible reasons for the shakeout range from the state of the economy, education and health care to the conviction that there should be term limits on elected representatives.

Some representatives are retiring so they can convert excess campaign funds to personal use, Rothenberg said. That option is only available to members who were elected prior to 1980.

"I think there's no doubt that a lot of senior members have already taken the road out of town, and others will be shown the door on Nov. 3," he said. "That's going to alter the makeup of Congress as an institution, alter the makeup of committees, and increase the seniority of relatively shortrm members."

Historically, tremendous turnovers such as the ongoing one have shaken up the process in a "very different fashion," said Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

"It creates opportunities for freshmen to move up to committees that otherwise wouldn't be available to them, and increases opportunities for other members to move to better committees, or up the ladder, much more rapidly."

In terms of how leadership and seniority will be affected, Cole said it would be "a pretty dramatic infusion of new blood, and the new people are going to be very much of a mind to change the institution."

While the seniority status of returning incumbents could be embellished, the real beneficiaries of this revolution will be the newly elected representatives, he said.

"Not immediately, but in a few years this class will become the one that is dominant in choosing leaders, and will become competitive for leadership positions a lot faster than would normally be the case," Cole said. …