David Dreier to leave Congress: Is California losing its clout?
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.
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“Both parties in the House limit the terms of committee chairs and ranking minority members, forcing rotation,” Johannes says. “Thus holding positions of power is less stable today than ever, and probably less meaningful. Sooner or later, California was bound to lose some influence associated with holding key positions.”Skip to next paragraph
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Still there are those that hold that Dreier, in particular, will be missed for what he could bring directly to the state.
“David Dreier was particularly effective in getting emergency help following the extreme rains and mudslides of 2005,” says Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. But he says more important than any specific project is Dreier’s operating style.
“He is a genuine believer in deliberative democracy, who has been willing to criticize his own party leadership for shortchanging substantive policy debate,” says Professor Pitney. He spotlights a Dreier quote used by Elizabeth Drew in her 1996 book about the GOP takeover of Congress: “The thing that has troubled me about the whole Hundred Days concept is that we’re trying to do too much too quickly. We’re going against the Founding Fathers. They wanted us to be deliberative,” said Dreier.
Others are glad to see him go.
“If you do the math, California is not getting its fair share of federal funds now,” says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. Ticking off a list of appropriations – for TARP, high-speed rail, water projects, unemployment – Professor O’Connor says “the real question is what have they brought us. The whole point of redistricting was to change how bad it is and this is working.”
Kyle Kondik, house editor at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, points out that California still has plenty of strong names that can do the heavy lifting: Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Daryl Issa, Kevin McCarthy, Dana Rohrabacher, George Miller, and Dan Lungren.
“If the goal is to bring back money for your district, all these guys are high on the food chain and know how to take care of their own,” Professor Kondik says. “And of course, a lot depends on exactly who the new guys are and how they learn to work together.”
On this point, Johannes says historical context is important, as is the natural ebb and flow of political power over time. For instance, he mentions the 1946 congressional elections, when “safe, conservative Southern Democrats" survived but northern liberals lost.
“That meant, given the general electoral safety in the South, that southerners rather quickly moved up the seniority ladder to become chairs of a disproportionate number of … committees. They dominated committees into the seventies. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, once had powerful House and Senate delegations, but they departed, via retirement mostly, costing those states influence. The same is true for a number of states over the past 50 or 70 years. It’s inevitable.”