Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California Congress members learn their committee assignments

Office of Rep. Karen Bass

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) has landed a seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Santa came early for several members of Congress: House leaders on Thursday announced committee assignments for both veterans and newcomers.

Republican Congressman Gary Miller will now be the number two Republican on the House Financial Services Committee. Miller, who just won reelection in a new district in San Bernadino, has served on that committee for more than a decade and has been active on housing and mortgage issues.

Irvine Congressman John Campbell also serves on Financial Services and has landed the top spot on the Domestic and International Monetary Policy Subcommittee.

On the Democratic side, a trio of California Congresswomen are taking on new committees. L.A.'s Karen Bass adds the Judiciary Committee to her "things to do" list. Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who's served for a decade and a half in Washington, will now serve on the House Budget Committee.

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Californian wins the lottery...for a Congressional office

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Before they get to sit here, freshman members of Congress have to figure out where they'll work the rest of the time. That's where the office lottery comes in.

On Capitol Hill, this is the day the new crop of freshmen enters a lottery that determines where they’ll work. A Californian got the top opportunity to choose offices.

There's a superstition about dancing when it comes to influencing the luck of the draw in the office lottery. Redding Freshman Republican Doug LaMalfa threw caution to the wind and danced a Michael Jackson moonwalk for luck as he picked his number:  34 out of 70. Democrat Eric Swalwell of Dublin brought his own soundtrack: Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." He drew number 61.

Ventura Democrat Julia Brownley was the first to try dancing - a reluctant swaying to and fro. She won the office lotter and became the first Congressional freshman to choose an office. She wants one in the oldest and grandest House office building. "I seem to like the Cannon building just because of its historical features, I guess."

Brownley says that when she was in the California legislature, the Assembly speaker assigned offices. She says the Congressional process is more fair.

Did Brownley buy a Powerball ticket the other day, too? "I wish I had," she laughed.

One freshman who drew one of the lowest numbers put the best face on it, saying, “there are no bad offices when you’re lucky enough to be here in Congress.”

 

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Most of California's Congressional freshmen are Sacramento veterans

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via cd6.lacity.org

Former L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas is one of a bumper crop of new Congressional delegates from California.

California’s Congressional delegation has a bumper crop of 14 new freshmen.  But most have lots of legislative experience.

Nearly 2/3 of California’s freshman Congressional class have served in the state legislature. All three Republicans -- Paul Cook, Doug LaMalfa, and David Valadeo -- were Assemblymen, with LaMalfa also serving two years in the state Senate.

Six Congressional Democrats -- Julia Brownley, Alan Lowenthal, Jared Huffman, Juan Vargas, Tony Cardenas, and Gloria Negrete McLeod -- are also veterans of the California statehouse.

Brownley is thankful for that Sacramento training. She says that with everything freshmen have to think about, "it’s really great to have had the experience and to know a little bit know about what I need to know and when I need to know it."

Term limits have prompted many California lawmakers to consider life after Sacramento. A combination of citizen-drawn districts and the new “top-two” law made it easier for state legislators to challenge Congressional incumbents. 

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Photos: California's bumper crop of freshman lawmakers learn the ropes on Capitol Hill

Freshman Congress

Kitty Felde/KPCC

Democrats (from left) Scott Peters of San Diego, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Jared Huffman of Humboldt and Gloria Negrete-McLeod of Chino compare notes during orientation week at the Capitol.

Dr. Ami Bera, a Democratic physician from Sacramento, said the Capitol is a "maze" that reminded him of a hospital.

David Valadao, a Republican from the Central Valley, said learning his way around the Capitol was a little "disorienting."

Doug LaMalfa, a Republican farmer from Redding, is aiming for the Agriculture Committee.

Democrat Julia Brownley of Ventura County said endless meetings in countless places made for sore feet.

Teacher Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, is hoping for seat on the House Education Committee.

Democrat Tony Cardenas is moving from L.A. City Hall to the halls of Congress.

Dr. Raul Ruiz is a newly-elected Democrat from the Coachella Valley.


It’s freshman orientation time, Capitol Hill style. Newly-elected members of Congress spent last week in Washington, where there was a lot to learn and not much time to learn it.

It was a busy week for the new House members from California. 

Republican Doug LaMalfa from Redding said going to the House floor was "pretty cool." Ventura Democrat Julia Brownley said there were a lot of meetings in a lot of different locations, which resulted in sore feet, "But it's all been great and very exciting." 

L.A. Democrat Tony Cardenas said they received ethics training early in the week, but he had more questions after the session than he did before he walked in the door.

Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had his priorities in order: he found out where he could get his dry cleaning done in the Longworth House Office Building for about a fourth of the price they charge at the hotel where the newbies were put up.

David Valadao, a Republican representing Hanford in the Central Valley, said the hardest part has been remembering names and faces. He noted when he was a lawmaker in Sacramento, it was easier: just 80 members. And as the minority party, his Republican caucus "just had 27 at the time."

California is sending a bumper crop of 14 freshmen to Capitol Hill. They were feted at a dinner in the grand Statuary Hall of the Capitol by Speaker John Boehner, had their I.D. pictures taken, and staked out their preference for committees.

Cardenas wants Energy and Commerce, since he's an engineer. Takano, a teacher, is leaning toward Education and the Workforce. LaMalfa pointed out that he's a farmer in his "real life," so the Agriculture Committee would be "a natural." But LaMalfa said he already knows this much: "Freshmen don't walk in here and start dictating where they go."

Nevertheless, Democrats Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach and Jared Huffman from Humboldt are both requesting Transportation and Infrastructure. Their party is the minority in the House, which means fewer seats on plum committees like those they're seeking. 

But Cardenas isn’t discouraged: "The way it works around here, they say if you don’t get what you ask for, and they give you a different committee, apparently you still get to reserve a right to be on it when a slot opens up in the future."

Brownley also wants one of those rare Transportation seats. She spent an afternoon making her case to the top Democrat on that committee, Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

It’s not just the protocol new freshmen have to learn. There’s also the physical lay of the land.  Just ask Valadao and Sacramento Democrat Dr. Ami Bera. Valadao said he got "a little disoriented" in the Capitol. Bera said it's a "maze" of a building and compared it to a hospital.

Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino also got a little confused when she stepped into a bathroom: "I walked in and [thought], Why are there urinals here?" She double-checked the door, saw the men's room sign and walked right back out.

But these 14 new members have worries off the Hill as well.  Their top concern is housing, whether they'll need a roommate, or a car. Dr. Raul Ruiz of the Coachella Valley said he's thinking about the East Coast winter weather, which he experienced during his college days at Harvard: "I’m starting to think of which clothing that I have that are remnants from my time in Boston that will keep me warm here in D.C."

Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, broached another matter that crosses party lines: "One of the longer commutes in Congress." Peters wondered how he'll make a bi-coastal lifestyle work. LaMalfa said the challenge is whether to "move your family back to this place and then just go home for district business and then try to get back and be here? Or is there enough days that they’re home, you should just stay here and hustle back and forth on the weekends?"

The freshmen will have time to think about logistics while they’re home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be back at work at their temporary cubicles in the basement of the Rayburn Building at the end of the month, picking lottery numbers for office space and learning more about the way things work in D.C. 

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Pelosi mum on leadership role; introduces Democratic freshmen

There are still two undecided Congressional races in California. But even without those, there are nearly a dozen new members of Congress from the Golden State. The top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, introduced her party’s new crop Tuesday in Washington D.C.

Pelosi filled the stage with new Democrats...and they kept spilling out of the green room. Pelosi welcomed several by name, including Ventura Congresswoman-elect Julia Brownley. 

Californians make up a quarter of the freshman class of Democrats. Pelosi had hoped to win a few more seats in California to retake the House, and the Speakership, but the GOP still outnumbers Democrats by about 18 members. She told reporters, "we may not have the majority, we may not have the gavel.  But we have unity."

Two Republicans from California were elected to the House.

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