Democratic lawmakers representing the Midwest are united on path to influence
WASHINGTON -- The road to power on Capitol Hill now passes through the Upper Midwest. And there are several stops along the way. The November election handed Democrats control of the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years. It a...
WASHINGTON -- The road to power on Capitol Hill now passes through the Upper Midwest.
And there are several stops along the way.
The November election handed Democrats control of the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years. It also elevated more federal lawmakers from the region into influential positions this year than at any time in recent memory.
That left Rep. Jim Oberstar shaking his head in amazement. Now in his 33rd year in Congress, Oberstar couldn't recall a similar scenario during his tenure.
"Never. Haven't seen that before," he said while sitting in his spacious Capitol Hill office.
Oberstar, of northeastern Minnesota's 8th District, has taken control of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee just as several of his area colleagues similarly have ascended.
New Democratic leaders from North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are poised to put their thumbprint on a host of topics important to the region. The list includes farm, energy, highway funding and budget issues.
In all, members from those congressional delegations are heading at least seven House and Senate panels for the next two years -- and longer if their party retains control.
The new leadership posts, based largely on seniority, came at a good time, legislators said.
For instance, the House and Senate agriculture committees are stacked with Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota lawmakers as Congress is preparing to write new federal farm legislation.
Freshman Rep. Tim Walz is still getting his bearings in Washington, but he predicted area farmers won't get short-changed in the 2007 farm bill.
"I think it's probably the best we've ever had," the 1st District Democrat said of committee representation.
Walz will serve on fellow Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson's House Agriculture Committee, while Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar have seats on the Senate Agriculture Committee. That committee's chairman is Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.
"We have a lot of clout," Klobuchar said while sitting in her temporary Capitol Hill office.
Coleman lost his chairmanship of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations when his Republican Party was swept from control on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, Coleman said he intends to work with the new majority.
So many leaders from one region is a "unique thing," said Walter Mondale, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party patriarch and former vice president and senator.
Mondale, who was in Washington for the beginning of the new Congress, said Midwestern influence shouldn't be overlooked.
"You've got a lot of strength up there," he said of the region.