Retiring Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis (right) has served in the House since 1979.
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.
Newly-elected Democratic Congressman Raul Ruiz has made a few Republican friends during orientation in D.C., but he won't name them because cross-party fraternization is frowned upon.
This week, California’s 14 freshman members of Congress are back in Washington for a second week of orientation. But much of the training is segregated, with Democrats on one side of Capitol Hill and Republicans on another.
During morning sessions, the newbies all learn about setting up a website, how to send constituent mail, how to staff an office. But from lunchtime until late into the evening, Democrats and Republicans are separated.
Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa of Redding says, during afternoons with his GOP colleagues, he's witnessed the "hot debate" about conference rules and amendments. "They didn’t take very long to get the verbosity up here," he observed.
Even the meals are segregated. Speaker John Boehner’s fancy dinner for newcomers in Statuary Hall was GOP only; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held her own party for Democratic freshmen.