Archive for December, 2010

Consistency Minus Seniority

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This was my final Reasonably Right column ending out 2010 and begining 2011 when I took a hiatus to work on the Dave Dennis for Governor campaign. To be honest, I’m not sure if it ran in any newspapers because it was a bonus column after my “final” column for newspapers to use if they needed more time to fill the space in their publications. But I thought I would post it here in its entirity if for no other reason, to serve as a reference for me.

With the defeat of Gene Taylor (D -MS4) this past November, and this week’s swearing in of a new Congress, the dean of the Mississippi delegation to the U.S. House is now Bennie Thompson (D- MS2). Looking at his three junior members, Mississippi sees consistency minus seniority in committee assignments.

When Thompson took office in 1993 following a special election, Mississippi’s other congressional districts featured Jamie Whitten (D-MS1) – a former House Appropriations Chairman; Sonny Montgomery (D-MS3) – House Veterans Affairs Chairman and member of the Armed Services Committee; Mike Parker (D- MS4) a member of the Budget and Public Works & Transportation Committee; and Gene Taylor (D- MS5) a member of the Merchant Marine & Fisheries Committee, and the Armed Services Committee.

Whitten retired the following year and was replaced by Roger Wicker (R). Wicker followed in Whitten’s tradition with a seat on the Appropriations Committee and rose to become a subcommittee chairman before vacating the seat for the U.S. Senate. Travis Childers (D) next took the district and served on the Financial Services Committee and Agriculture Committee. Alan Nunnelee (R) took his experience as Mississippi’s state Senate Appropriations Chairman to Washington DC and will return this First District to a place on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

Nunnelee noted that role when he was sworn in saying, “Today, we took an oath to defend and support our Constitution. The road ahead is long and the changes that need to be implemented difficult. The Appropriations Committee will be instrumental in these decisions and I am prepared to fight for Mississippi and the conservative values I was elected on.” With the Republican moratorium on earmarks, it will be a different committee than it was under Whitten or Wicker, but it remains the focus of all federal spending and brings with it those responsibilities and opportunities.

Two years after Mississippi lost Whitten’s seniority, Montgomery also retired. Chip Pickering (R) took that seat and during his six terms served on the Agriculture Committee, the Transportation Committee, and Vice-Chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee. Gregg Harper (R) took this seat in 2009 and in 2011 has put Mississippi back on the Energy & Commerce Committee with his assignment there.

Parker (who switched to the Republican Party in 1995, was reelected in 1996 and did not seek reelection in 1998) was replaced with Ronnie Shows (D) who took office in 1999. Shows served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and for one term the Financial Services Committee. His district was collapsed following redistricting and his district largely consolidated with Pickering’s who defeated him in 2002.

At the time Taylor was defeated this past November, he served on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and on the House Armed Services Committee where he was a subcommittee chairman. Taylor’s replacement is Steven Palazzo (R) who has been assigned seats on the House Armed Services Committee and the Science & Technology Committee. Thus Palazzo continues Taylor’s membership on that committee which dated back to an overlap with Montgomery.

The Science & Technology Committee is important to South Mississippi due to its jurisdiction over NASA and marine research. Palazzo said of that assignment, “Stennis Space Center is an important part of South Mississippi. By serving on this committee, I will work to strengthen this national asset. I also look forward to working with our education partners within South Mississippi to advance science and technology opportunities that will help create jobs and keep our state at the forefront of innovation.”

Looking back over his 18 years, Thompson has watched basically two rounds of seniority move through the Mississippi House Delegation. His colleagues upon arriving have all retired or been defeated; and now with Nunnelee and Harper he has seen another wave come through. Thompson is now Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee under Republican control – he was Chairman under the Democratic majority.

Despite changes in seniority, there is some consistency in Mississippi’s committee assignments: Appropriations, Energy & Commerce and Armed Services. It is notable that we lack our traditional representation on the Agriculture Committee (Thompson and Pickering each served there at one time), the Transportation Committee, and – considering Montgomery’s legacy – the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The actual work on public policy issues in the House is conducted in the committees and it is not typical to see substantial amendments to the legislation from the House floor. The committee work then by the Mississippi delegation is important not only to our state, but affects all the states under the policy jurisdictions. As the current crop of members from Mississippi increase their seniority, they will move up in their influence on those committees. But even minus that seniority, there is still consistency in Mississippi’s congressional delegation.

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