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11:24 am
Mon November 1, 2010

Tuesday's election will lead Michigan to lose 'Seniority' in Congress

Michigan will have at least 4 freshman members of Congress after November’s general election.

But all that new blood means Michigan is losing something special in Washington...seniority.

By January,  Republicans Pete Hoekstra and Vern Ehlers, and Democrats Bart Stupak and Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick will have packed up and moved out of their congressional offices in Washington. 

Hoekstra, Ehlers and Stupak voluntarily retired. Cheeks-Kilpatrick lost her party’s August primary.

While the four differed politically, Michigan benefited from their combined 67 years of seniority in Congress.   It’s a loss that Tricia Miller, a reporter with the congressional newspaper, Roll Call, says the state will feel. 

 "I was talking about this with a colleague and he was talking about Vern Ehlers is a Republican on the Transportation Committee.  He’s a senior Republican on that committee," says Miller, "When the transportation bill comes up next year, if you had a senior member on the committee in place you might have gotten that extra road paved or that extra interchange whereas without that senior member on that committee that may go to a district in Georgia or Louisiana."

 

The loss of seniority in Congress may be felt more in west Michigan where Ehlers and Hoekstra have been influential in promoting the region and its needs in D.C.

Jeanne Englehart is the president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.  She’s also a former aide to Congressman Ehlers.

 "When  you’re in Washington, and when  you see the respect “seniority” and the respect of these individuals with their seniority and their knowledge level, this is not a job you just walk into and you immediately get it," says Englehart, "When you see that respect that other members of Congress pay to those individuals you realize what a treasure we have, and what a loss this is."

The lunchtime crowd is filling up the Windmill Restaurant in Holland.   Sitting across the table from me is Jim Timmerman, the Opinion page editor with the Holland Sentinel newspaper.  

He says Pete Hoekstra didn’t steer a lot of pork projects to his west Michigan congressional district.  But Timmerman says Hoekstra has used his influence to help the region’s industries,  from furniture makers to farmers.

 

"His seniority has certainly helped him work on those issues and certainly helped him have his voice heard a little more someone who’s only been in Congress two or four years," says Timmerman.

But even though Michigan is losing at least four long serving members of congress,  the state is not losing all of it sway in Washington.    While a couple of congressional incumbents are facing tough reelection votes, most of Michigan’s congressional delegation is expected to easily win reelection.    But even if another long serving Michigan congressman is unseated that may also help.

"There are some possibilities that some new members coming in...if they help Republicans coming in gain a majority that they could actually get some extra access," says Roger Moiles,  a political science professor at Grand Valley State University, "In certain places, if somebody could knock off a Democratic incumbent and help the Republicans than they will move up in the statue and that may help a bit."  

 

Another wildcard is redistricting.  Michigan state lawmakers will soon use the latest US Census numbers to redrawn the state’s congressional districts.   Its expected Michigan will lose one of its 15 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.   And in this version of political version of musical chairs may leave a long-term Michigan lawmaker without a seat in Congress.