Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California loses nearly 300 years of Congressional seniority with retirements, defeats

Retiring Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis (right) has served in the House since 1979.
Retiring Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis (right) has served in the House since 1979. RepJerryLewis/

You might call it musical chairs, that time in the political calendar when members of Congress make their move up the leadership ladder. But the turnover of more than a dozen California seats in the House means going to the back of the seniority line.

In some ways, nothing’s changed for California. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer still chair key Senate committees. But the real power shift is in the House, where citizen-drawn district lines led to competitive races. California lost 14 incumbents and with them, astoundingly, nearly 300 years of service on the Hill.

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says losing seniority means losing members in strong leadership positions, "often chairmanships or ranking positions in committees that matter." He says, normally, you'd see some reduction in the clout of a state. "But in a state like California, which has more members than anybody else, which is going to get members on every single panel so that they can effectively argue the case, it’s not as dramatic as it might sound."

California can still claim both the House Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, and the Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi. Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita still chairs the House Armed Services Committee; Darrell Issa of Temecula heads Oversight and Government Reform. 

But longtime L.A. Congressman Howard Berman won’t be returning in January as the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Ornstein says Berman is an opinion leader who has an influence on policy that goes beyond where he comes from.

"Howard is universally respected," Ornstein says, "widely seen as a tremendous influence and providing some bipartisan glue in many areas of foreign policy."

Marc Sandelow, political science professor at the University of California’s D.C. Center, says Congress also loses important institutional memory. He cites the election loss of Bay Area Democrat Pete Stark, who knows more about Medicare than just about anybody else on the Hill.

"He’s been around since Tommy John pitched for the Dodgers," Sandelow notes. "This guy has 40 years of Congressional experience. He’s walking away from that now, being replaced by a guy who’s never worked on Capitol Hill."

Sandelow says losing experienced Democrats is one thing, but the most important thing for California is who controls the House. And the House belongs to the GOP.

California’s Republican delegation has gone from 19 to 15 members, thanks to redistricting and a shrinking California Republican Party. Even before the election, three Democrats and four longtime California Republicans in the House announced they were stepping down for reasons ranging from wanting to spend more time with grandchildren to a desire to go on a Mormon mission.

The departures include Republican David Dreier of San Dimas, who came to Washington the same year as Ronald Reagan. As head of the powerful House Rules Committee, Dreier was the genial traffic cop who decided which amendments would get a floor vote.

Also retiring is the state’s longest serving member, Republican Jerry Lewis of Redlands, who first came to Capitol Hill in 1978. Lewis says he's been in Washington "long enough." He insists redistricting wasn’t the reason for his decision to retire: "Fortunately, in the territory that I’m in, where I’ve often said that the Democrats are more conservative than me, I have not had a difficulty with reapportionment."

Democrat Xavier Becerra says Lewis — who once chaired the powerful House Appropriations Committee — was able to direct federal dollars to build highways, fund NASA projects, expand airline terminals, and build flood control canals in southern California. "Much of the infrastructure in California we owe to people like Jerry Lewis," Becerra says. "Lewis can say he helped build America."

Infrastructure remains one of the areas where individual members can still steer federal dollars to their home state. But Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College says most federal dollars are doled out according to formulas not subject to the influence of individual members. And those formulas don’t favor the Golden State. 

"California is a relatively young state," says Pitney, "so we don’t have as high a proportion of people on Social Security as say, West Virginia." And because we’re a relatively affluent state, he adds, "we don’t get quite the same amount of benefits in means-tested entitlements as we would if we were a poorer state."

California is important to Republican party leadership. And UC’s Sandelow says that can help: "John Boehner’s gotta look out on the House of Representatives now and know that he needs to win competitive California seats to stay as Speaker. So when he starts figuring out who’s gonna author bills, who needs to show off to constituents at home, it  may well be that California is able to get a little more than it used to."

This week, California's remaining Republican incumbents have been jousting for leadership positions. Republican Ed Royce of Brea was just named the new Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. But Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach lost his bid to chair the House Science Committee.


Dennis Cardoza – (D, Modesto):

  • First elected: 2002
  • Key Committees: Agriculture where he was top Democrat on Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture; also served on Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry
  • Key legislation and contributions: Served on 2008 Farm Bill Conference Committee where he was able to steer over $2 billion to California’s Central Valley for fruits, vegetables, nuts and other crops 
  • Reason for leaving: Congressman Cardoza resigned from Congress in August and didn’t return to Capitol Hill for the lame duck session, citing “parenting challenges” 
  • Future plans: though not a lawyer, he is joining the DC law and lobbying firm Manatt,  Phelps and Phillips

David Dreier – (R, San Dimas):

  • First elected: 1980
  • Key Committees: Chairman of House Rules Committee (first Californian to chair this powerful committee, which decides which amendments get a vote)
  • Key legislation and contributions:  allowed broadcasts of Rules meetings for the first time; key Congressional player in getting votes for several trade agreements, including North America Free Trade Agreement; as Chair of House Democracy Partnership, led election observation teams worldwide, including Egypt; helped secure funding to extend Gold Line to Montclair; wrote San Gabriel Basin Restoration Fund to clean up groundwater; helped restore $50 million for Mars Surveyor program at JPL
  • Reasons for leaving: in a speech on the House floor, he cited the “abysmally low approval rating” of Congress; his district was redrawn to become largely Latino and Democratic
  • Future plans: undetermined, though Dreier has said he’d follow the advice of President James Madison and leave Capitol Hill to live with the laws passed by Congress

Bob Filner – (D, Chula Vista):

  • First elected: 1992
  • Key Committees: top Democrat on House Veterans’ Affairs Committee; also served on Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Key legislation and contributions: after he took leadership on Veterans’ Affairs, VA health budget has increased by 60% and VA home loans by 50%; authored bill that raised IRA contribution levels to $5,000; helped restore benefits to Filipino Veterans and Merchant Marines of World War II.
  • Reason for leaving: was elected Mayor of San Diego

Elton Gallegly  (R, Simi Valley):

  • First elected: 1986
  • Key Committees: Vice Chairman of Foreign Affairs, Judiciary committees, Chairman of Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement
  • Key legislation and contributions: Chaired the 1995 Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform; most of the committee’s 80 recommendations became law; he also authored bill that outlawed animal abuse in videos
  • Reason for leaving: “It seemed like a natural time.” Also, redistricting put his home in fellow GOP member Buck McKeon’s district
  • Wally Herger (R, Chico):
  • First elected: 1986
  • Key Committees: Ways and Means; Chairman of Subcommittee on Health; also on Trade subcommittee
  • Key legislation and contributions: Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Protection Act, which thins forests to both prevent fires and provide timber jobs; also wrote bill that prevents prisoners from collecting undeserved government payments
  • Reason for leaving: says 26 years in the House was enough, wants to spend more time with grandchildren
  • Future plans: go on a Mormon mission with his wife

Jerry Lewis (R, Redlands):

  • First elected: 1978
  • Key Committees: Appropriations, former Chairman
  • Key legislation and contributions: helped get funding for highway improvements along I-15 and I-40; for a cancer treatment center; NASA research at Loma Linda University; terminal expansion at Ontario Airport; and construction of Santa Ana flood control project
  • Reason for leaving: “been here long enough”
  • Future plans: he’s “looking around to see how he can best affect public affairs”

Lynn Woolsey (D, Petaluma):

  • First elected: 1992
  • Key Committees: Education and the Workforce, ranking member on Subcommittee on Workforce Protections; also served on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Key legislation and contributions: opposed 1996 welfare overhaul (she was the first former welfare mother to serve in Congress); authored law that gives workers six months of job-protected leave to care for injured family members serving in the military; also law to protect workers from exposure to dangerous chemicals
  • Reason for leaving: "I turned 55 the day I was elected in 1992. Do the math.”


Joe Baca – (D, San Bernardino):

  • Lost to: State Senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod
  • First elected: 1999 (special election)
  • Key Committees: Agriculture, ranking Democrat on Nutrition and Horticulture Subcommittee; also serves on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee; Financial Services, Subcommittees on Financial Institutions and Oversight and Investigations; Former chair of Congressional Hispanic Caucus
  • Key legislation and contributions: pushed back on GOP amendments on English Only; secured $10 billion in new funding for food stamps 
  • Future plans: “Not too sure”

Howard Berman – (D, Sherman Oaks):

  • Lost to: U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D)
  • First elected: 1982
  • Key Committees: top Democrat on Foreign Affairs; number two Democrat on Judiciary 
  • Key legislation and contributions: helped secure funding for 405 freeway expansion and Northridge rebuilding; legislation that ensures women don’t lose their job when they go on maternity leave; co-authored 2011 bill that restricts foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from doing business with Iran

Brian Bilbray – (R, San Diego):

  • Lost to: San Diego Port Commissioner Scott Peters (D)
  • First elected: 1995-2001; then 2006 
  • Key Committees: Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Investigations, Communication and Technology, and Energy and Power Subcommittees; Chairman of Immigration Reform Caucus
  • Key legislation and contributions: helped shepherd a scanner that detects skin cancer through FDA review process; bills to clean up Lake Hodges and an amendment that prevented federal money from being spent on taking down the cross at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
  • Future plans: more surfing time with his seven grandkids, then work on advocating cancer research and renewable fuels

Mary Bono Mack  - (R, Palm Springs):

  • Lost to: Dr. Raul Ruiz (D)
  • First elected: 1998
  • Key Committees: Energy and Commerce; Chair of Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; also served on Subcommittees on Environment and the Economy, and Communications and Technology
  • Key legislation and contributions: funding for airport tower in district; co-authored legislation to reauthorize U.S. Safe Web Act, which expands powers of Federal Trade Commission to fight internet fraud and online scams; was the sole GOP vote in the Energy and Commerce Committee approving Henry Waxman’s climate change bill; she voted against it on the floor
  • Future plans: Joining Board of Directors of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, the nation’s leading drug abuse prevention organization.  Politico reports she is being courted to join a lobbying firm; her husband, Florida Congressman Connie Mack, lost his bid for the U.S. Senate

Dan Lungren (R, Sacramento):

  • Lost to: Dr. Ami Bera (D)
  • First elected: 1978-1989, re-elected 2004
  • Key Committees: Chairman, House Administration Committee; also sat on Homeland Security and Judiciary Committees
  • Key legislation and contributions: key role in passing the last major immigration bill, IRCA, in 1986; co-authored port security bill that requires cargo containers to be scanned for radioactive materials; critic of GOP on growth of earmarks

Laura Richardson (D, Long Beach)

  • Lost to: U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D)
  • First elected: 2007 
  • Key Committees: Homeland Security, top Democrat on Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications; also sat on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee; also served on Transportation and Infrastructure; Subcommittees on Highways and Transit; Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials; and Water Resources and Environment
  • Key legislation and contributions: reauthorized Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which extends voluntary loan program to clean up air quality

Pete Stark – (D, Fremont):

  • Lost to: Dublin city councilmember and Hayward Deputy District Attorney Eric Swalwell (D)
  • First elected: 1972
  • Key Committees: Ways and Means, ranking member of Health Subcommittee; prior Chairman of Ways and Means
  • Key legislation and contributions: Catastrophic Health Care Act of 1988 expanded Medicare benefits (it was repealed in 1989 after wealthy seniors complained about the tax that paid for it); pushed to ensure younger workers have continued COBRA insurance; central role in expanding State Children’s Health Insurance Program (during debate on SCHIP, he told Republicans they preferred spending money “to blow up innocent people” in Iraq; GOP House passed a resolution censuring Stark, who apologized).

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the area Buck McKeon, of Santa Clarita, represents.

Update: Mary Bono Mack is joining board of anti-drug organization

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