Some worry that David Dreier's retirement means reduced clout for
California on Capitol Hill. But others say an anti-pork atmosphere
in Washington means their concerns are overblown.
Republican David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee,
added his name Tuesday to the list of veteran California lawmakers
who are retiring from Congress, causing some in California to fret
about the state's lost clout on Capitol Hill.
But others, pointing to changes in Congress and a spirited anti-
pork atmosphere pervading Washington, say those concerns are
Congressman Dreier, the most powerful of the six California
representatives who are retiring, cited the historically low public
approval rating for Congress as among the reasons he would not seek
Another reason that Dreier and others have decided not to run is
that, as a result of California's recent redistricting, they were
facing new or different constituencies or new opponents. His home
was placed in a majority Hispanic district where President Obama
defeated John McCain in the last presidential race.
"Seniority is almost everything on Capitol Hill, and because of
redistricting and retirements, California could lose well over 200
years of incumbents' experience in the House," says Sherry Bebitch
Jeffe, a political scientist at the School of Policy, Planning, and
Development at the University of Southern California, in an e-mail.
With twice the seniority of any other state, California has the
most to lose, some say. Moreover, California voters' recent decision
to put redistricting in the hands of a citizen's commission -
instead of leaving it up to state legislators themselves - puts the
state at a political disadvantage, they add. While other legislators
in other states still take politics into account in redistricting,
California's citizen's commission does not.
But the other side of the argument is that the workings of
Congress have changed so much that these losses don't mean what they
might have in the past.
"Given the combination of extremely tight budgets, the ban on
traditional earmarks, and the popular and press focus on 'waste and
pork,' no one holding a committee or subcommittee chair today can
steer as much federal largess as in the past to his or her district
and state," says Jack Johannes, professor of political science at
Villanova University in an e-mail. "They still can and will, but
it's a lot harder now than ever. That diminishes the effect of
losing key congressmen who hold high ranking committee positions."
Other Calilfornia members of the House of Representatives that
have decided not to return to Congress are Jerry Lewis (first
elected in 1979), Elton Gallegly and Wally Herger (both in 1987)
Lynn Woolsey and Bob Filner (1993), and Dennis Cardoza (2003).
Professor Johannes says that committee and some subcommittee
chairs - the traditional source of power - no longer are based on
seniority in the House, a tradition that was broken in the 1970s and
crushed by Newt Gingrich in 1995. He says both parties since then
have regularly skipped seniority to reward party loyalty,
ideological purity, and fundraising ability in appointing chairs. …