California loses power in the US Capitol

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

California loses power in the US Capitol

Election 2024, California politics, homepage news

Julia Wick

Dec. 14, 2023

For nearly five years, California reigned supreme in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the gavel passing continuously across party lines, from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (



The country’s most populous state enjoyed years of strength

in Washington in Congress

where long-serving Californians were held


assignments from plum committees,

exerted enormous influence and provided sage advice to less experienced legislators, a large group of leading members, and a long stint as speaker of the House of Representatives.

But a slew of retirements in the House of Representatives in recent years and the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein

to have



away from the influence of Capitol Hill in California.

Amid a broader exodus from a Republican-controlled House paralyzed by partisanship, seven of California’s 52 members of Congress announced

they would give up their seats. Including the departing people

Senior or high-profile members, including

search for if

McCarthy, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk), Adam


Schiff (D-Burbank), Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Katie Porter (D-Irvine)

everyone plans to leave the house


Porter, Lee and Schiff are all running for Feinstein’s seat in the Senate, making it all but certain that at least one of them will remain in Congress next cycle, even in the House.

Two other prominent members of the LA congressional delegation, Karen Bass and Lucille Roybal-Allard, left the House just two years ago.


Bass now


as LA mayor.

In the upstairs room, where Feinstein was

one of the


she was THE oldest


Democratic members

Alex Padilla, California’s current senior senator, has been in office for less than three years. California’

s junior senator,

Laphonza Butler, who had never held elected office, was installed as governor. Gavin Newsom less than three months ago and will be replaced after next year’s election.

Just two Californians

to stay

in leadership positions in Congress: Reps. Pete Aguilar of Redlands, chairman of the Democratic Caucus; and Ted Lieu of Torrance, vice chairman of the Democrats.

In the House, an institution whose two-year terms guarantee constant turnover, seniority matters. Experienced members of Congress are likely to have more influence within their own party and across the aisle, expertise on the most critical issues facing the country and the savings to guide legislation. Those years of experience can yield tangible benefits for voters. Veterans representatives can secure more federal support for their states and better leverage their power on pressing issues.

California’s needs vary by district and region, but increasing Medicaid funding for the state, spending more money on wildfire suppression and water conservation projects, and ensuring that major expenditures around defense spending stay within the state will always be priorities are for the state delegation. California has the same wants and needs as other states, such as transportation, education, and Medicaid funding, as well as programs to address the recurring emergencies: drought, wildfire, flood, earthquake. As a giant in the agricultural and defense industries and home to Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the state has also long depended on its influence to shape vital tax and trade policies. California

loss of seniority, experience and control over the will of the speaker


state power in Washington, at least in the short term, experts say.

Knowledge is power, said Kevin Gordon, president of the Capitol Advisors Group, an education lobbyist that closely tracks the states’ presence in Congress. And if we lose some members of the delegation who have had that continuity and that experience of being in the majority and leading committees and all the policy expertise that has been built up, you start all over again.

Such a cycle is the charm of our democracy, Gordon said. But the short-term consequences are real, including a brain drain of both the competence of the committees they serve and the potential rewards California gets from having people who know how to work the system.

This year’s exodus

break up

of legislature is hardly unique to California: more than 35


members of Congress have announced plans to leave office after this term, according to Ballotpedia. The Not-Running-Again Caucus represents a rare bipartisan wave on Capitol Hill, with both Democrats and Republicans heading for the exit in significant numbers this year. They have cited several reasons, including toxic dysfunction, the personal sacrifices and constant travel synonymous with the job, and a desire to pursue other roles. Some Republicans have also expressed frustration with the current state of their party.

The Los Angeles-area House delegation is losing three members this year, with Rep. Tony Crdenas (D-Pacoima) announcing his departure alongside Schiff and Napolitano. Of the three, Crdenas is the newcomer, having only been employed for ten years. Napolitano has been in Congress since Bill Clinton was president for months, and Schiff arrived in Washington before the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The kind of institutional knowledge and cohesion that members of the Los Angeles-area delegation have long possessed is important, but who controls the House is what really matters, Bass said.

The major,

a former six-term member of Congress,


the example of Schiff, who has all the seniority in the world but was censured by the Republican-controlled House earlier this year and kicked off the powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in January, along with fellow California Rep. Eric Swalwell ( D-Dublin).

The size of the LA delegation and the seniority of its remaining members will help minimize the impact of retirements on the region, said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

The larger size of the Los Angeles delegation, at least 17 counties, includes part of LA County

means the area could lose several senior members

and there are still several veterans in the delegation, Guerra said, citing the continued presence of people like Lieu and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

Some metropolitan areas, he noted, may have only one or two representatives.

And rookie status is, by definition, only a temporary ailment.

Take Lieu, now a five-term lawmaker who serves on the influential House Judiciary Committee and vice chair of the Democratic Caucus. Less than a decade ago, he was the newcomer tasked with replacing Rep. Henry Waxman, a giant of the House of Representatives who served for nearly four decades and was one of the nation’s most influential Democratic lawmakers.

The departure of the twenty-term congressmen

e, which came the same year as several other veteran California lawmakers, including

the then chairman

of the powerful House Armed Services Committee,


some Californians

to worry about a depletion of the Golden State’s political power. But Pelosi would return to the speakership just four years later, with McCarthy following her in 2023.

In the Senate, Feinstein had long been ill before her death in September, and her colleagues and the press had questioned her mental acuity in the years before her death. But even as her health declined, Feinstein’s seniority in the House continued

as long as

formidable power for California.

Senior members have typically built a powerful staff that is used to conduct business, said U.S. Senate historian emeritus Donald Ritchie. If a senator becomes ill, his office continues to function much the same as before.

Junior members of the Senate typically haven’t had the time to build that kind of experienced staff and they usually don’t have the same extensive committee staff, Ritchie said.

Still, even with Feinstein’s death and the many broader departures, Crdenas seemed unconcerned about any decline in California’s power in the Capitol. He praised the local and national legislative experience of his political compatriot from the Northeast San Fernando Valley (and Washington roommate), Alex Padilla, and said that at just 50 years old, the senator would likely serve for decades.

“It’s not just about seniority, it’s about who the person is [


] what they bring to the table,” Crdenas said.

Times writers Erin B. Logan and Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.


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