Earlier versions of this article, including in Tuesday's print edition of The Washington Post, misstated the number of House committee chairmanships that Michigan will control in the 112th Congress. The correct number is three, not two. This version has been corrected.
What's the matter with Texas (on the Hill)?
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but is the state's clout in Congress actually getting smaller?
A decade ago, the 107th Congress was sworn into office with two Texans - Richard K. Armey and Tom DeLay - occupying the No. 2 and No. 3 House GOP leadership positions, making the state the clear heavyweight in the chamber.
On Wednesday, the 112th Congress will begin with two Texans in the House leadership, but on lower rungs. Rep. Jeb Hensarling will be Republican Conference chairman, and Rep. Pete Sessions will chair the National Republican Congressional Committee.
On the committee front, two Texas Republicans lost bids last month for House panel chairmanships to lawmakers from Michigan: Rep. Fred Upton bested Rep. Joe L. Barton for the gavel of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers edged out Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry to head the Intelligence Committee.
Texas will hold two chairmanships this year - of the Judiciary and the Science and Technology panels - but Michigan, California and Alabama also hold two apiece, and their committees are arguably more desirable than Texas's. Michigan and Florida lead the way, with three full committee gavels each.
All this is despite the fact that, with 23 members, Texas's Republican delegation continues to be the biggest in the House. (California and Florida are next with 19 Republicans apiece.) So, what's the matter with Texas?
Calvin Jillson, a political science professor and expert on Texas politics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the state's decline in Congress has been a long process.
"If you look back over the last century, Texas's clout is at a low point, even if it has come back a bit the last couple of election cycles," Jillson said.
The state has provided three of the last 14 House speakers and used to dominate the ranks of committee chairmen. But Texas has lately been the victim of two factors: term limits and turnover.
Barton failed to keep hold of the Energy and Commerce Committee largely because he couldn't persuade GOP leaders to waive a six-year term limit for top panel Republicans. (Another Texan, Bill Archer, had to surrender the coveted Ways and Means Committee gavel a decade ago for the same reason.)
More important, seniority still plays a major role in chairmanship decisions. Many Texas lawmakers are relatively junior: Fourteen of the state's 23 House Republicans have been elected since 2002, in many cases replacing senior Democrats who held powerful positions in their party.
On the brighter side for Texas, both of the state's senators hold influential posts: John Cornyn stays atop the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Kay Bailey Hutchison is the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.