Death of a Statesman – John Dingell
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When Democrat Henry Waxman of California launched his bid to oust fellow Democrat John Dingell from his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Hill watchers in the know made two observations: First, they knew Waxman had the votes in his caucus because, like a good attorney, the politically astute Californian would never pose the question if he didn’t already know the answer. Second, it signaled the beginning of the end of seniority in the House of Representatives.
John Dingell, born in 1926 and first elected to the House in 1955, is the closest thing to a statesman in a body whose membership runs for re-election every two years. His 27 terms as a representative have earned him the distinction of being the Dean of the House – its most senior member. Seniority means everything in the House – at least it did until Henry Waxman (a 17 termer himself) upset the applecart. Seniority determines a member’s office, his seat at the committee, and is, in general, an indication of clout.
Unfortunately for Chairman Dingell, he is a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Detroit Democrat in Nancy Pelosi’s House. This sort of dissent, it appears, will no longer be tolerated in the 111th Congress. House Republicans view Chairman Dingell as someone they can work with. Under his control, the Energy and Commerce Committee – which oversees 60% of all legislation – passed Republican bills and accepted Republican changes to Democratic iniatives. Contrast this record of bi-partisanship with Chairman Waxman’s two years of impish delight in raking Bush Administration wrongdoers over the proverbial coals in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Waxman, who represents Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Malibu, is expected to wield the Energy and Commerce Committee’s gavel as a club, bashing any opposition to liberal agendas perpetrated by Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Dingell’s ouster is a disappointment to many Americans who hoped the Democrats would govern from the center. In fact, one high-ranking Republican called Dingell’s defeat a “body blow” to working families.