Rock Stars, Real and Figurative, Depart the Hill

Posted December 11, 2008 at 3:29pm

When President-elect Barack Obama tapped Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) as his chief of staff, he did not just nab the Democrats’ most cunning political strategist. He also robbed Capitol Hill of one of its bigger personalities.

Emanuel, who has an affinity for dropping f-bombs and who once sent a political adversary a dead fish, has as much personality as he does power. His departure, along with the exit of political rock stars such as Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), constantly crabby Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and staunch Lebanese supporter Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), leaves a massive whole in the quirky department on Capitol Hill.

The bipartisan rock band the Second Amendments is losing three of its five members by year’s end. Lead guitarist Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) is retiring, bassist Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) lost in his bid for re-election and keyboard whiz Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) ran unsuccessfully for governor. No word yet on a farewell tour.

Stevens, leaving the Senate as a convicted felon on seven counts of corruption, holds the distinction of being the longest-serving Republican Senator in the history of the body. The Alaskan advocated for the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” and was just as famous among floor-watching Hill staffers for his Incredible Hulk tie and description of the Internet as “a series of tubes.”

While Obama left his Senate post for the presidency, a handful of other presidential aspirants will not return to their Congressional offices next year. Clinton and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden will vacate their Senate slots, with Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) rounding out the list.

Stevens leads the list of scandal-plagued Members not returning next year, but he is not alone. Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) lost re-election after admitting to numerous extramarital affairs. Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.), discovered to have a mistress and a child out of wedlock, didn’t seek re- election this year. Retiring Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) stirred the Capitol Hill gossip mill after his 2007 arrest on suspicion of soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. Reps. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and John Doolittle (R-Calif.) are also leaving Congress amid corruption charges.

The exodus of tenured lawmakers on the House side includes 10 appropriators and seven members of the Ways and Means Committee, from the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), to Emanuel, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman who engineered the Democratic takeover in 2006.

Republicans are losing two former National Republican Congressional Committee chairmen — Reps. Tom Davis (Va.) and Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) — and a host of long-serving members with seven, nine and even 18 terms under their belts.

“He’s a human encyclopedia,” LaHood said of Davis, who is a quote-worthy wonk full of political trivia. “He’s a Member’s Member. There aren’t many like him.”

And indeed, there aren’t many like LaHood, who as the grandson of Lebanese immigrants became Congress’ most outspoken advocate for the Middle Eastern country.

LaHood’s replacement, 27-year-old Rep.-elect Aaron Schock (R), will become the youngest member of the House when he’s sworn-in next month. LaHood called his successor “a very mature young man who will be a very good face for our party,” but the outgoing Member noted the loss of experience and personality that imperils Congress every two years.

“Any time you have Members walking out the door with eight, 10 and 14 years of experience, it’s a loss for the district and the state,” he said.