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Hill Clout: California Is Still Golden

Correction Appended

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:

1. California

1,343 points

Previous rank: 1

Population rank: 1

The Golden State boasts the Speaker and two Senate committee chairmen (and they’re all women), as well as the chairmen of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Veterans’ Affairs committees. Lots and lots of people in the state. And lots and lots of Democrats in the House delegation — more Democrats, in fact, than any other state has Members. The Big Enchilada. ’Nuff said.

2. New York

775 points

Previous rank: 2

Population rank: 3

The Empire State barely edged out Texas for the No. 2 spot and was able to hold on by all but obliterating the Republicans in its Congressional delegation. As recently as 2002, New York sent a dozen Republicans to Congress; now there are just three — though a special election on March 31 could produce a fourth.

Luckily for New York, there is no scandal meter diminishing the clout of Members. So Rep. Charlie Rangel (D) is still perched at the top of the Ways and Means Committee. In the House, New York also has the chairmen of the Rules and Small Business committees, and the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. Then there’s Sen. Charles Schumer (D), a powerhouse in so many ways, who has been handed the gavel of the Rules Committee and remains an integral part of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) leadership team.

3. Texas

770 points

Previous rank: 3

Population rank: 2

The Lone Star State has a seasoned delegation, but its partisan makeup keeps it a few paces behind more Democratic New York. In other words, there are simply too many Republicans in the delegation — 20 House Republicans to 12 House Democrats, plus two GOP Senators — for the state to hit its potential in a Capitol dominated by Democrats.

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D) is the state’s only committee chairman.

But in a sign of how important Texas money is to any Republican hopes of a revival in the upcoming election cycle, Texans helm both GOP Congressional campaign committees — John Cornyn at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Pete Sessions at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

This may not take the sting away from losing a Texan in the White House and a strong-armed Congressional power like former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), but it’s a start.

4. Michigan

Points: 611

Previous rank: 4

Population rank: 8

Although Rep. John Dingell (D) was ousted recently as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he is the longest-serving House Member in history. And Michigan’s delegation remains one of the most senior and powerful in the country, anchored by Dingell (28 terms), House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (23 terms), Democratic Reps. Dale Kildee (17 terms), Sander Levin (14 terms) and Bart Stupak (nine terms), and Republican Reps. Fred Upton (12 terms), Dave Camp (10 terms), Vern Ehlers (nine terms) and Pete Hoekstra (nine terms).

And don’t forget about Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D), who was just elected to his sixth term.

Additionally, Democrats in 2008 flipped two House seats that were previously held by Republicans, upping their clout further.

5. Florida

Points: 552

Previous rank: 5

Population rank: 4

Thanks to gerrymandering, the Sunshine State’s Congressional delegation was dominated by Republicans in the early part of the decade, which was a good thing for the state when the GOP was in command on Capitol Hill.

But the state’s demographic trends have outpaced the political maneuvering, and Democrats have picked up four House seats (and given one back) in the past two election cycles. That helps their cause with the Democrats now controlling Capitol Hill.

6. Massachusetts

Points: 546

Previous rank: 6

Population rank: 13

The Bay State delegation may not win any awards for diversity — 11 of 12 Members are white male Democrats — but it does pack a wallop when it comes to power and seniority.

Both Senators are committee chairmen — Sen. Edward Kennedy has the gavel at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and John Kerry moved from Small Business and Entrepreneurship to the way more critical Foreign Relations Committee.

On the House side, Rep. Barney Frank sometimes seems as if he’s running the country given his role as chairman of the Financial Services Committee. Rep. John Olver is an Appropriations cardinal, and Reps. Ed Markey, Richard Neal and James McGovern are all key players on their respective committees.

Massachusetts House Members — and other pols lower down the political food chain — occasionally grumble that there are so few opportunities to move on to the Senate (Kennedy was elected in 1962, Kerry in 1984). But that fact sure helps maintain the delegation’s significant clout.

7. Pennsylvania

Points: 518

Previous rank: 10

Population rank: 6

Brady’s promotion was the biggest development aiding the state’s ranking. And Democrats picked up one more House Member — Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper — to augment the four House seats and one Senate seat they gained in 2006.

The top Republican in the delegation, Sen. Arlen Specter, remains one of his party’s most important players, politically and institutionally.

8. Virginia

Points: 504

Previous rank: 7

Population rank: 12

The Old Dominion lost two senior Republicans, Sen. John Warner and Rep. Tom Davis, and GOP term limits forced Rep. Bob Goodlatte to give up his ranking member slot on the Agriculture Committee.

But those losses were offset to a certain extent by the arrival of three new Democrats in the delegation. And thanks largely to the presence of the Pentagon and major naval installations around Norfolk, Virginia continues to see more federal largess than just about anyplace else.

9. Maryland

Points: 492

Previous rank: 8

Population rank: 19

The Free State lost a senior Republican House Member in Wayne Gilchrest, and it now has two House freshmen (Frank Kratovil and Donna Edwards, who is a “super freshman,— having won a special election last year) and a House sophomore, John Sarbanes.

But it also has House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D). And Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who holds two leadership posts. And Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), the dean of the Senate women and an Appropriations cardinal.

And to use another sports metaphor with the basketball tournament here, while it doesn’t show up in the box score, the presence of Baltimore native Nancy Pelosi as Speaker sure doesn’t hurt.

10. Illinois

Points: 463

Previous rank: 9

Population rank: 5

Illinois voters probably don’t mind the fact that their Congressional delegation has slipped one notch in the Roll Call survey. They’ve now got the president of the United States, his chief of staff and the secretary of Transportation — Congressional alumni all. That seems like a pretty good trade, from Illinois’ perspective.

Correction: March 17, 2009

The article incorrectly reported that the Massachusetts Congressional delegation is all male. That had been the case until Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) won a special election in October 2007.

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