THE TURNOVER rate in the House is always higher than the notorious reelection rate would suggest, as members retire or otherwise move on. About a tenth of the House will not return next year. Three senior members -- two who retired, one who was unexpectedly beaten -- will be particularly missed.
Gus Hawkins retires after 28 years in the House, the last six as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. A quiet man but a combative legislator, this senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus began his congressional career in an era when social legislation was fashionable, and he remained a believer throughout. He helped shape any number of bills over the years; in just the last Congress he was an influential figure in raising the minimum wage, opening the way to a major expansion of Head Start, enacting a new child care program and much more. One of his final proposals was that federal aid to education be conditioned in such a way as to goad states toward equalization in their systems of school finance. His successor, Bill Ford, is a man of comparable views, but there are too few such champions left in Congress.
Bill Frenzel also retires, and in the process the constructive wing of the House Republicans lose a leader; it is the sort of loss the minority party can ill afford. The Minnesotan served 20 years, became a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, served as ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee and finished up as ranking Republican on the Budget Committee as well. It is hard for Republicans to leave a legislative mark in the heavily Democratic House, and Mr. Frenzel's career was in part a frustrating mismatch of great ability and limited power. But in his valuable work on the budget, particularly this year, he showed what can be done even from the weaker position. He was one of those who helped not just to produce but to legitimize the deficit reduction plan, and some of the enforcement rules particularly are owed to his tenacity. It's the kind of achievement such a member ought to leave with.
Robert Kastenmeier was one of only 15 incumbents who sought reelection and were defeated. His loss after 16 terms, to a television newsman asserting mainly that it was time for a change, came as a great surprise even in his own district. The second-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee was never flashy, but one of those steadier, conscientious members who are the backbone of the House. A staunch defender of civil liberties, he worked for prison reform, privacy protection, free press and an enlightened criminal justice system. On the crime bill just two weeks ago, he was one of those who successfully held out against the death penalty and habeas corpus restrictions. He also took on complicated subjects that rarely make headlines, becoming the leading House expert on patents and copyrights, for example, and shouldering such unpleasant tasks as the impeachment of wayward judges. All that may have helped to cost him at home precisely the recognition it won him here.
The House will be poorer in wisdom and experience for the departure of all three of these men.