A Few Delegations Newly Punching Above Their Weight
The newest Roll Call Clout Index reveals that, even more than before, the largest potential for influence belongs to the states with the most people and therefore the biggest delegations. So it’s worth paying special attention to the smaller places with lawmaker contingents positioned to punch highest above their weight.
Maryland, at 19th in population with 5.8 million residents, is the only midsize or small state to crack the top 10, for reasons detailed in the initial piece about our calculations for the 114th Congress. One way of viewing the statistic is that the sway of the state’s lawmakers is nine notches better than where all the people they represent stand in population rank. And nearing Maryland’s standing are three significantly smaller delegations even more dramatically positioned to bring back victories disproportionate to their clout ranking.
With 4.4 million residents (about the size of the Phoenix metro area) Kentucky ranks 26th among the states in population — but 13th in the new rankings. That’s because among its citizens are the new Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the veteran chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Harold Rogers. Fully half its House delegation (3 out of 6) hold seats on Energy and Commerce, which has the broadest legislative sway over domestic policy of any committee on the Hill. Finally, seven of the state’s lawmakers are majority Republicans, and they began the year with an impressive century of seniority among them.
(Total size, longevity, majority party representation and formal positions of power are our quantifiable measurements of a delegation’s clout. So, for example, we don’t count the fact Kentucky is also home to a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, or one of the iconoclastic conservatives to whom GOP leaders have had to pay outsized attention, Rep. Thomas Massie.)
Four other states this year have clout that outstrips their populations to a Kentucky-comparable degree.
The biggest over-performer is Alaska, 47th in population but 32nd in clout. That’s thanks to Lisa Murkowski, the Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman and an Appropriations member in her 13th year as a senator, and fellow Republican Don Young, the state’s sole House member. He has termed out in two committee chairmanships but has more seniority on his own (42 years last month) than the cumulative House seniority of 21 other state delegations.
Mississippi checks in at No. 18 on the clout roster, despite being No. 31 on the population roster, principally because its two senators have a combined 62 years of congressional experience as majority Republicans and one of them, Thad Cochran, has returned after his 2014 near-political-death experience to be chairman of both Senate Appropriations and its Defense Subcommittee.
Utah is 20th in congressional clout, though 34th in population, because its modest six-member lawmaking group is all Republican and is headlined by a trio of committee chairmen: Orrin G. Hatch at Senate Finance, Rob Bishop at House Natural Resources and Jason Chaffetz at House Oversight.
In contrast, seven midsize or small states have spots on the Roll Call Clout Index either identical to, or only a single slot away from, their rank by population: Minnesota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Nevada, Rhode Island, Montana and North Dakota.
For every delegation with chops that far exceed its size, there’s another facing the opposite, and more problematic, reality: The members aren’t positioned to deliver at a level commensurate with their number of constituents. The rosters of underachievers as well as overachievers have shifted since the last Congress.
Virginia, as detailed in our previous story, has become the biggest of the underperformers. It ranks 12th in population but has plunged to 21st in clout — down from sixth in the 113th Congress. That’s in part because several senior and powerful lawmakers have departed but also because we no longer make per capita federal spending a factor in assessing a delegation’s sway. (Virginia’s military-industrial complex made it a leader in that category.)
Just two among the 10 most populous states finished outside the top 10 in the power rankings, and in each case it was because the GOP domination of their delegations was offset by the group’s relative lack of experience. Georgia has held one spot outside the top tier because four of its 14 House members and one senator are newcomers. North Carolina’s got a freshman senator, too, and its influence was further hobbled because seven of its 13 House members have been in office less than 28 months.
Most prominently punching the most below its weight is Massachusetts: 14th in population but 28th in delegation strength. It does not have a single lawmaker in the majority party, none of them is an appropriator, both senators have been in their posts fewer than three years and only two of the nine House members are on one of the most influential committees. It’s a relatively new and profoundly different situation for the state, which of course had inordinate influence on the federal power structure from the era of the Adams family to the heyday of the Kennedy clan. In fact, it boasted one of the 10 most powerful delegations in each Roll Call Clout Index between the initial study in 1990 and the one issued in 2011.
The dean of the Arizona delegation may be the current senator who most clearly embodies the concept of clout — but Republican John McCain’s new chairmanship of Senate Armed Services, and his way of monopolizing whatever debate he plunges into, aren’t enough to propel clout for the 15th most populous state higher than No. 27. (No lawmaker from the state belongs to one of the most prestigious legislative committees, and seven of the 11 have been in their offices less than five years.)
There’s a comparable 11-notch gap between Colorado’s clout (33rd) and its population (22nd). Among the most “purple” states on the national political map, its delegation is split as close as possible between the parties. There’s one senator from each, and a House team with four Republicans and three Democrats. But none has been around long enough to be a chairman or ranking member, none is an appropriator and only two (both minority Democrats) have spots on a top panel: Michael Bennet is on Senate Finance and Diana DeGette is on House Energy and Commerce.
Bringing up the rear of the entire clout parade is Hawaii — another state that, like Massachusetts, has seen its influence plummet after a generational turnover left the delegation without an iconic legislative force. It is represented by a clutch of junior members from the Democratic Party. Both senators and one House member settled into their posts in January 2013; the other House member arrived only this January. Democrat Daniel K. Inouye, by contrast, was not only Appropriations chairman but also finishing his 40th year as a senator when he died at the end of 2012.
His clout alone would be the envy of many entire delegations today.