Hill Clout: California Is Still Golden

Mar 16, 2009
In The News

Minnesota officials have yet to declare a winner in the contested 2008 Senate election, but Roll Call is finally prepared to call another hotly anticipated race whose results were delayed this year: our biennial state-by-state assessment of Congressional clout.

The political uncertainty in the Gopher State was partly to blame for the delay — and so was the fact that the Senate took so long to dole out some plum subcommittee assignments. But whether Democrat Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman is ultimately declared the winner in that Senate race without end, Minnesota’s ranking hardly changes at all. If Franken wins, the state is tied with Arizona for 30th in overall clout; if Coleman wins, it drops to 31st. (Franken’s membership in the majority party would outweigh Coleman’s slightly longer tenure.)

In the end, the list for the 111th Congress looks a lot like it did at the beginning of the 110th Congress — in fact, the top 10 states remain the same, only the order has changed slightly. Pennsylvania jumps from the 10th slot to the seventh, and Virginia, Maryland and Illinois each slipping one place.

Pennsylvania’s rise can largely be attributed to the ascension, in the middle of 2007, of Rep. Robert Brady to the chairmanship of the House Administration Committee. Brady should like that: He doubles as the Philadelphia Democratic chairman, so he knows a thing or two about clout.

How do we put together our list? With March Madness upon us, let’s just say that the selection process is every bit as scientific — and clear-cut — as the one NCAA officials use to determine who is going to the big dance. As we try to describe our secret sauce, we’re reminded of the scene from the Marx Brothers’ movie “Duck Soup,” when Groucho, as Rufus T. Firefly, leader of Freedonia, is asked if he finds a certain policy clear.

“Clear?” Groucho replies. “Ha! Why, a 4-year-old child could understand this. Run out and find me a 4-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it.”

So as we attempt to explain it here, be sure to have a 4-year-old close by.

We give points to each state based on several factors, including:

• size of the delegation

• number of full committee chairmen and ranking members

• number of Members on the most influential committees

• top leadership posts

• number of Members in the majority party

• per capita federal spending received

• seniority, and

• power rating of the opponents.

Wait, that last point has something to do with the NCAA tournament — we think.

From January 2007 to now, two states had the biggest movement. Oklahoma jumped from 43rd overall to 33rd, largely on the strength of Rep. Frank Lucas’ (R) new post as ranking member of the Agriculture Committee and Rep. Tom Cole’s (R) assignment on the Appropriations Committee after two years of purgatory helming the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New Mexico tumbled 10 positions, from 19th in clout at the start of the 110th Congress to 29th today. That’s hardly surprising: The Land of Enchantment lost 36 years of seniority with the retirement last year of Sen. Pete Domenici (R), and all three of the state’s House Members are new.

Another forced retirement — the electoral defeat of Ted Stevens (Alaska), the longest-serving Senate Republican in history — dropped Alaska’s clout index eight slots, from 17th to 25th.

Other noteworthy drops: Ohio (from 11th to 15th), Louisiana (from 28th to 34th), Colorado (from 32nd to 37th), Oregon (from 35th to 40th) and Delaware (from 45th to 49th). Gainers of significance: Indiana (from 21st to 17th), North Carolina (from 23rd to 19th), Georgia (from 25th to 20th) and Tennessee (from 26th to 21st).

The overall clout list tends to favor big states, but looked at a different way, some small states also pack a legislative wallop. That’s what happens when you calculate clout per Member.

On that list, tiny North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and South Dakota are at the top. The bottom five: Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Texas and California.

Here again, the outcome of the Franken-Coleman Senate race has very little bearing on Minnesota’s standing. If Franken wins, Minnesota ranks 39th in clout per Member, and if Coleman wins, it ranks 40th.

Here’s a closer look at the 10 states with the most clout https://www.rollcall.com/issues/54_102/news/33151-1.html?CMP=OTC-RSS.

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