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California's House delegation includes 11 newcomers

The freshmen bring diversity, though their lack of seniority may diminish California's clout on Capitol Hill. Democrats outnumber Republicans, 35 to 15.

November 08, 2012|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles City Council member Tony Cardenas is the first Latino elected to represent the San Fernando Valley in the U.S. House.
Los Angeles City Council member Tony Cardenas is the first Latino elected… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON — Tuesday's election dramatically changed the face of California's congressional delegation, shuffling in an eclectic group of freshmen lawmakers whose lack of seniority may diminish the state's Capitol Hill clout in the short term.

At least 11 of the delegation's 53 House members will be newcomers in the biggest turnover in 20 years. Democrats currently outnumber Republicans, 35 to 15, and are leading in three tight races.

The new delegation will have a more diverse look: The number of Latinos will increase to nine from six. But San Pedro Democrat Janice Hahn's defeat of incumbent Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach) reduced the number of African Americans to three.

Among the Democrats: Juan Vargas of the San Diego area, a Harvard Law School classmate of President Obama; Tony Cardenas, the first Latino elected to represent the San Fernando Valley in the House; and Mark Takano of the Inland Empire, a teacher.

Among the new Republican members: Paul Cook, a retired Marine Corps colonel from Yucca Valley; Doug LaMalfa, a Northern California rice farmer; and David Valadao, a Central Valley dairyman.

A good deal of the change can be attributed to new district boundaries drawn by a voter-approved independent citizens commission and a new primary system that pits the top two finishers against each other, even members of the same party.

The reconfigured maps prompted a spate of retirements and a slew of competitive races in a state where only one seat had flipped between the parties in the last decade.

The defeat of veteran Democratic Reps. Pete Stark and Howard L. Berman and possible ouster of Republican Dan Lungren, along with the retirements of senior members, are likely to reduce the state's influence in a Congress where seniority still matters.

"It will take a while for some of our new members to develop the seniority that will give them the clout that we're now losing," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), whose friend Berman served as top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and was ousted by fellow Democrat Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks.

Sherman, who hopes to follow Berman (D-Valley Village) as top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the turnover "may get us more responsive legislators."

Stark, the delegation's 80-year-old dean with 40 years on Capitol Hill, was defeated by Eric Swalwell, a 31-year-old fellow Democrat, in a new district in San Francisco's East Bay. And Lungren, who chairs the Committee on House Administration, narrowly trailed Democrat Ami Bera in a Sacramento-area race. Two other senior Republicans — Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, and David Dreier of San Dimas, the Rules Committee chairman — are retiring.

Still, deep blue California will enjoy influence in the Republican-controlled House, where Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield serves as majority whip, the No. 3 GOP leadership post; and Reps. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and Darrell Issa (R-Vista) chair the Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively.

"You still have two powerful senators in the majority in the Senate," said UC San Diego political scientist Gary Jacobson. And many of the newcomers are hardly political neophytes, heading to Washington after serving in Sacramento.

But it was a tough day for Republicans. Although the GOP held on to its House majority, California Republicans failed to oust any of their targeted Democratic incumbents.

Democrat Raul Ruiz, an emergency room doctor, was ahead of Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs. His spokesman said he expects Ruiz to prevail, though the incumbent refused to concede with tens of thousands of ballots still to be counted Wednesday.

Democrat Scott Peters clung to a narrow lead over Republican incumbent Brian P. Bilbray in a San Diego County race. Democrat Julia Brownley defeated Republican Tony Strickland in a Ventura County race.

But Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the House GOP campaign arm, said: "By playing offense in California, we deprived Democrats the opportunity of using valuable resources in other seats throughout the country. As a result, Nancy Pelosi will never be speaker again."

Pelosi, of San Francisco, was mum Wednesday on whether she would seek to remain Democratic leader after her party failed to win back the majority.

Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book on state legislative and congressional races, said results in House races can be chalked up largely to shifting demographics and sinking Republican fortunes.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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