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.
Congressman Xavier Becerra in front of Capitol. His fellow Democrats have chosen him to serve as their Caucus Chairman, moving him to the #4 power position in the House of Representatives.
LA Congressman Xavier Becerra took a step up in Capitol Hill leadership this morning.
His fellow House Democrats elected him as their new Caucus Chairman.
Becerra says the job is similar to that of a member of Congress. "Just as I have to represent 700 thousand people in my Congressional district," he says, "I now have to represent 200 Democrats in the House and do everything possible to make sure that they do well."
The move means Becerra becomes the number four Democrat in the House.
California also claims the top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the number three Republican, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the GOP House Whip.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of El Monte spoke Wednesday at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus event to call for comprehensive immigration reform.
Suddenly, immigration is the buzz word on Capitol Hill. A pair of Republican Senators floated their idea Tuesday for giving legal status to illegal young people, and the House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a visa bill. But the chances of a comprehensive immigration bill passing both the House and Senate anytime soon remain slim.
Shortly after the election, House Speaker John Boehner seemed to open the door to immigration reform. He called for a "common sense, step-by-step approach, it would secure our borders, allow us to enforce our laws and fix a broken immigration system."
L.A. Congressman Xavier Becerra, a top Democrat in the House, says Boehner isn’t the only Republican talking immigration, citing both talk show host Sean Hannity and Super PAC leader Karl Rove.
"The question is no longer if," said Becerra, "it’s when. Will we get a solid, sensible bill done? That’s the question."
Now that Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to stay on as House Democratic leader, other party members are assessing their standing. On Wednesday, another Californian formally launched his campaign to move up the leadership ladder.
L.A. Congressman Xavier Becerra is currently the fifth-ranking Democrat in the House. Now he’s sent a formal letter to colleagues, throwing his hat in the ring for the number four spot — Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Becerra says relationships are the key to advancement: "It’s developing the friendships that let you get to the point where you can actually ask for a vote."
Becerra has several things going for him: Pelosi is one of his biggest fans. And a quarter of the freshman Democratic class comes from his home state. "The more Californians there are," says Becerra, "the greater opportunity I have to try to have them be with me, supportive of me."
A Democratic party official says Congresswomen Linda, left, and Loretta Sanchez are "our best messengers to Latino voters in these districts where the Latino vote is critical to our success."
Congressional candidates are busy getting out their messages to voters in these last few weeks before the November election. With the Latino vote being targeted around the country, a number of rising Latino Congressional stars are also working hard outside of their districts.
Redistricting has made this a particularly busy election year for Congressional Californians. Democrat Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim says when she learned in January what her new district would look like, she began knocking on the doors of "as many of the homes that are new to the district." She's also been registering new voters in her redrawn district.
But Sanchez has found the time to help out a fellow Democrat, State Senator Alan Lowenthal, who’s running for an open Congressional seat in Long Beach where 34% of district residents are Latino.