Coveted Panel Seat Sparks Scrum

Posted April 2, 2008 at 6:56pm

Democratic lawmakers are lobbying House leaders for the soon-to-be-vacant Energy and Commerce Committee seat now held by lame-duck Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) in a contest that pits state and ethnic claims.

With Wynn’s departure, Maryland’s delegation is looking to retain that seat on the powerful committee, as is the Congressional Black Caucus.

Among those Members who have begun jostling for the post are freshman Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) and Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-Virgin Islands).

According to several CBC members, the caucus agreed at its weekly meeting Wednesday to support Christensen for the post, citing her background as a physician as well as her seniority in the House. A Christensen aide confirmed the Delegate’s interest in the seat.

Although other lawmakers, including freshmen Reps. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) also expressed interest, they deferred to Christensen according to CBC members, who asked not to be identified.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) had been viewed as a top choice for the committee, as he filled the Wynn profile of a CBC member from Maryland. But Cummings said he is not interested.

“It’s something that I did not pursue. … I’m pleased with my responsibilities as chairman of the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation,” Cummings said, referring to his post on the Transportation Committee.

Cummings also pointed to his 5th-ranking seat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Space is making a regional argument, pointing out that Ohio has no representation on the panel. As many as three Ohioans have been on the panel in recent years. “I’ve made my interest known,” he said.

Sarbanes did not respond to requests for comment.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested Tuesday that Wynn could be asked to vacate his seat on the coveted panel before he formally resigns from the House in June.

“I think it is absolutely essential that he does recuse himself, and I am not sure what he is going to do on the committee,” Hoyer said. “There may be some thought that we need to have a full voting committee member who does not need to recuse himself on issues, and therefore, there may be — Mr. Wynn may decide to step down from the committee prior to leaving.”

Wynn, who was defeated in a Democratic primary by challenger Donna Edwards, announced last week that he accepted a job at the law and lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro.

He recently filed a recusal form with the Clerk of the House certifying he will avoid actions that create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Given that his new employer counts numerous clients with potential business before the committee — such as the Interactive Gaming Council, Peabody Energy and Covanta Energy Corp. — Wynn could find himself on the sidelines on a regular basis.

But Wynn declined Wednesday to discuss whether Democratic leaders have asked him to forfeit his seat, stating only: “No decisions have been made.”

He also demurred when asked about potential successors on the panel. “I’m recusing myself,” he quipped.

The competition for Wynn’s seat could preview the 111th Congress, when at least two additional seats will become available on the Energy and Commerce panel with the retirements of Democratic Reps. Darlene Hooley (Ore.) and Tom Allen (Maine), who is seeking to unseat Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday that he is exploring legislation to allow the state to hold a special general election to replace Wynn. O’Malley could leave the seat open until January 2009 or hold a special primary and general elections. To hold just one election would require the General Assembly to pass a law. The legislative session ends Monday.