McKinney Seeks to Regain Lost Seniority

Posted October 1, 2004 at 6:30pm

Former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), who is almost guaranteed to win back the House seat she lost just two years ago, has privately been working the Democratic Caucus to support her bid to reclaim her decade of seniority if she returns to the House this January.

McKinney, according to well-placed Democratic sources, has been trying to gather backing among her former colleagues and even met privately with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday to ask for her place and positions back within the Caucus.

Pelosi did not deny McKinney’s request outright, but several knowledgeable aides said it is highly unlikely the Minority Leader would ultimately agree. McKinney had served on the Armed Services and International Relations committees in the 107th Congress.

While not exclusives, those two panels are highly sought after by rank-and-file Members. They are even more influential now, given the Iraq conflict and ongoing war on terrorism.

“She met with her and asked for her seniority back,” one well-placed aide said of McKinney’s visit with the Minority Leader. “Pelosi made no commitment.”

McKinney, first elected in 1993, served until January 2003 after a bitter and controversial campaign in which she lost to fellow Democrat Denise Majette. Majette is now vying for the Georgia Senate seat vacated by Democrat Zell Miller, who is retiring.

McKinney survived a crowded primary in July and almost is assured victory in November. She faces opposition from little-known Republican Catherine Davis in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly would only say of McKinney’s session with his boss: “We do not comment on private meetings.”

McKinney’s campaign did not return a call Friday. But Democratic aides suggested she has been talking to Members about her return and seeking their support for both her personally and her efforts to recoup seniority.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a McKinney friend and ally, said Friday she couldn’t directly speak to any conversations her former colleague has had within the Caucus or with the Minority Leader about seniority. But she said it is a normal practice for one-time Members to try to regain their committee assignments once they return. And, Waters said, Members often do win back their stature.

“She should not be treated any differently from other Members who tried to regain their seniority,” Waters said. “We know it is quite common, and she shouldn’t be treated any differently.”

Sources said while there are instances in which returning Members get their status back, it is not a rule, and it is often a tool used by leaders to boost former Members in tough comeback bids. For instance, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who was running in a very competitive race to win back her old seat, was promised and given her senior status when she returned to the House after a brief hiatus.

“There is no guarantee,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “Members have gotten it and some haven’t. It is catch as catch can.”