After back-to-back terms as leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen is now the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.
Maryland is becoming the new political powerhouse in the Democratic Caucus.
With Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s selection Tuesday as the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, four of the chamber’s six Democrats now have important seats at the leadership table.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a former president of the Maryland state Senate, is the House’s No. 2 Democrat, and Marylanders Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings have won posts atop the Budget Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively, two panels that will be central to Democrats’ efforts to counter the GOP majority over the next two years.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who appointed Ruppersberger to the post and who twice tapped Van Hollen to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also is a Maryland native with family ties to politics in the state.
Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday it had not occurred to them how heavily Maryland was represented in leadership, but they attributed the situation largely to seniority and circumstance.
Still, Ruppersberger said the trio of other Marylanders already in key leadership positions was a concern of his when he was lobbying for the job.
“I was worried,” Ruppersberger said. “That was one of the issues that I’m sure caused concern when the decision had to be made. My only response is it’s not my fault.”
Ruppersberger, who lost a seat on the Appropriations Committee when Democrats moved into the minority, said he has been in contact with Pelosi since the beginning of the session, discussing with her his background in budgeting, national security and technical tactical experience.
“It was a tough decision for her,” Ruppersberger said, noting that other Democratic lawmakers were also vying for the position.
And it’s possible that a Maryland heritage could be a handicap should Van Hollen, Cummings or Ruppersberger aspire to elected leadership, at least as long as Hoyer stays on.
“That’s a tough one,” Cummings said when asked about the possibility that Democrats could be hesitant to put two Marylanders in elected leadership. “We just have a lot of good leader types, and they have risen to the occasion. So I just think that we’re very blessed. That’s about all I can say. ... We’ll be fine.”
Cummings won a contested race for the Oversight post and was widely seen as the favored choice of the Democratic leadership and the White House to stand up to Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
A Midwestern lawmaker cast the Maryland surge as part of the broader theme of East and West Coast Members enjoying the lion’s share of power in the Caucus.
“It would be disingenuous not to say that I see that concentration of power because it’s been one of the concerns I’ve had when it’s concentrated on both coasts, and you don’t see anything out of the Midwest,” the lawmaker said. “I think there was that feeling, especially from the Midwest who was decimated, that it was far more coastal.”
The Republican leadership, by contrast, has a heavy representation from the middle of the country, the lawmaker said, noting Speaker John Boehner is from Ohio and the chairmen of the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Budget panels all hail from the Midwest.
But the lawmaker added that the Maryland situation might simply “say something about what the state is doing as a bench for talent,” adding, “I certainly have full confidence in these people.”
California and New York, in particular, have in recent years dominated Democratic leadership ranks, in part because those states have large populations and a high number of Democrat-leaning districts. Pelosi, Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra, Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman and Education and Workforce ranking member George Miller are among the powerful Californians, and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel and Rules ranking member Louise Slaughter are just two of the powerful New Yorkers. Pelosi on Tuesday tapped fellow Californian Linda Sánchez to serve as the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee, taking over from another Californian, Zoe Lofgren.
But what makes Maryland interesting is that it is a relatively small state to have so strong a hold on power.
One senior Democratic aide speculated that proximity to Washington could be a contributing factor, as living close could make it easier for lawmakers to meet the extra time commitments required of those in leadership roles.
“All of these folks have districts that are very close to D.C.,” the aide said. “It allows them to also play a role in terms of visibility. They can go on TV more.”
In congratulating Ruppersberger for landing the Intelligence post, Hoyer lauded his state’s “deep legislative bench” and said in an e-mailed statement that he looked forward to working with his fellow Marylanders over the next two years “to continue to create jobs, restore fiscal responsibility, ensure government oversight, and keep our communities safe, not only in Maryland, but throughout our country.”
Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who sits on the powerful Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, chalked up Maryland’s power center to a long-serving delegation. The state’s two least senior Democrats — John Sarbanes and Donna Edwards — are the ones that don’t have leadership posts. But Edwards did mount an unsuccessful bid to co-chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus this Congress.
“Some state have more seniority than others,” Polis said. “I’ve never actually heard about a Maryland conspiracy. What people sometimes talk about in our Caucus is California has a lot of influence and that’s natural. ... Obviously New York has a lot of seniority. So I think it’s clearly not a Maryland conspiracy.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.