Huge midterm turnover makes House more of an everyman's roost
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 12:38 AM
To see how Tuesday's midterm rout will change the face of Congress, look no farther than the Bible Belt of southwest Missouri. Voters there replaced Rep. Roy Blunt, a savvy insider, with Billy Long, a smack-talking auctioneer with no college degree but a pithy slogan: "Fed Up."
But Missourians promoted Blunt (R) to a new job, in the Senate, where more than half of the 16 incoming freshmen have law degrees and all but two are grizzled political veterans.
In an election that saw nearly a quarter of Congress turn over, the Senate has remained a refuge for the establishment elite, and the new House has become more of an everyman's roost.
There's a pizzeria owner and former home economics teacher, a former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman and an Iraq veteran who was the target of an assassination plot, an ex-ice hockey referee, a pottery maker, a gospel singer and a one-time prodigy portrait artist.
But the more than 100 newly elected lawmakers who will soon descend on Capitol Hill for freshman orientation collectively do not look like America. Flipping through their portraits, you see a blur of white men. Ninety-seven are men, and 12 are women. Although some contests remain too close to be called, it appears this might be the first election cycle in 32 years that the number of women in Congress does not increase.
Of the 16 new senators, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte is the lone female.
"I hadn't actually thought about it until you just said it," Ayotte said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her Nashua home. Ayotte's 6-year-old, Katharine, and 3-year-old, Jacob, played in the background.
"I think we're at a time where it's great to see people from all different backgrounds stepping up to lead the country," said Ayotte, a former state attorney general whom endorser Sarah Palin dubbed a "granite grizzly." "We're a middle-class, small-business family, and that's a perspective where essentially we're facing most of the challenges that most everyday Americans are facing."
The Class of 2010 is less diverse than the country in other ways as well. Six are African Americans (two of them Republicans); three are Latino. There is one Asian American, and one Arab American, a Christian whose parents are Palestinian. There are two Jews, one Buddhist and no Muslims.
The freshmen range in age from 30 (incoming Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan) to 67 (incoming Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida). Although many of the newcomers ousted incumbents, some replaced retiring members of their own parties. Twelve of the freshmen are Democrats; 97 are Republicans. As of Wednesday evening, 11 House races and two Senate races remained undecided.
About nine in 10 of the new members have children, many of them school age. Republican Bobby Schilling,, who defeated Rep. Phil Hare (D) in an Illinois prairie district, has 10 children. The political novice is giving up his day job at Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza to come to Washington.
Like Schilling, several incoming House members are small-business owners who said they got involved in politics because of what they saw as red-tape intrusions by the government.