Forget red and blue – Indiana’s next congressional delegation will be largely green.
The state loses 78 years of federal legislative experience after Tuesday’s election.
Seven of nine Hoosiers in the House will be in their first or second terms when the 113th Congress convenes next year. Both senators will be in their first terms, although each is a Capitol Hill veteran.
But of this bunch, only Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-1st, was in the Indiana delegation as recently as 2006.
Gone after this year are Sen. Richard Lugar, who wraps up 36 years a lawmaker after losing in the May 8 Republican primary election; Rep. Dan Burton, R-5th, who did not seek re-election after 30 years in office; and 12-year Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th, who was elected governor Tuesday.
Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, will replace Lugar after defeating Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the general election. Donnelly has been in the House since 2007.
Republican Sen. Dan Coats was elected in 2010, yet he’s anything but a newcomer. This is his second stint on the Hill. Coats was a House member for most of the 1980s and a senator from 1989 through 1998.
The overall seniority shortage “certainly is less clout, less power in a sense,” said Lee Hamilton, the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and a Hoosier member of the House from 1965 through 1998.
“Leadership positions, which have been greatly enhanced in power in the last decade or so, are always senior members,” he said. “But seniority by itself does not give you power. The House is pretty good at sorting through the ability of members and making judgments about them.
“So Indiana loses in the short run, probably, in terms of seniority, but it has new energy, new people, new perspectives. And the Congress needs that as well,” he said.
IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf said the Indiana delegation’s inexperience will likely show up in committee assignments, where seniority still plays a factor in the pecking order and who appoints the panels’ staffs, whom Wolf called “the real power players in Washington.”
“Congress is more than just votes,” Wolf said. “What you should be looking at is the process, particularly with the committees.”
But Hamilton, who chaired three committees in his congressional career, said: “Committees are not nearly as powerful as they used to be. … I think it’s an unfortunate trend, but power is getting more and more focused in the leadership, and that means a rank-and-file member, and even a fairly senior rank-and-file member, has less power than they did decades ago.”
Even a little seniority can pay off. Wolf noted that Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, “got in front of the line” for committee slots among 2011 freshmen because he filled a vacant seat in the last weeks of the 2010 session. Republican leaders named Stutzman to the high-profile House Budget, Agriculture and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
Philip Blumel, president of the Fairfax, Va., group U.S. Term Limits, said in an email: “The new Indiana (congressional) members are not infants, they are for the most part successful and experienced individuals in their professional and political pursuits. As a group they bring a wider range of experience to the Congress than had existed before.”
Yet he said “a few new faces, however refreshing, is not enough to affect real change” because “the vast majority of incumbents” who sought re-election last week will be returning to Congress.
“For all the sound and fury this was a status quo election,” Blumel said.
Wolf thinks Donnelly should fare better in the far-smaller Senate than will Indiana’s three freshmen in the House. Donnelly already knows his way around Washington, and new senators tend to make their marks quickly, Wolf said, pointing to President Obama and rising GOP star Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as recent examples.
Of the three Indiana lawmakers who will depart this year, only Lugar has a committee leadership position. He is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Burton chairs a House subcommittee, and Pence is vice chairman of two subcommittees.
Time will tell how fast and far their replacements advance.
“Sam Rayburn used to say, ‘Send ’em to me young and capable, and I’ll make a good congressman out of ’em,’ ” Hamilton said about the Democratic House speaker for most of the 1940s and ’50s. “And that still holds, basically. You want to get there when you’re young enough to build up seniority, but you’ve still got to have the ability, because you’re playing in a fast league.”