State Leaders and the New Congress

While a few U.S. House races remain too close to call, at least 12 new senators and 66 House members will pack their bags and head to Washington to join the 113th Congress. More than half of these new freshmen will arrive on Capitol Hill with substantial state experience as governors, legislators, constitutional officers or senior appointed officials.

  Download the Brief in PDF / E-Reader Compatible Format

While a few U.S. House races remain too close to call, at least 12 new senators and 66 House members will pack their bags and head to Washington to join the 113th Congress. More than half of these new freshmen will arrive on Capitol Hill with substantial state experience as governors, legislators, constitutional officers or senior appointed officials.

Three-quarters of the incoming Senate freshman class have served in state government. The Senate is often a landing pad for former governors and the recent election confirmed this trend with former Govs. Angus King of Maine and Tim Kaine of Virginia.
 
The freshman class also includes four members with substantial state legislative experience, including one member, Mazie Hirono, who began her career as a Hawaii legislative staffer before serving as a state house member, state senator and lieutenant governor. The list also includes a pair of state leaders who have been at center stage in two of the most prominent cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past 20 years.
 
Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp argued unsuccessfully for the rights of states to tax online sales transactions in North Dakota vs. Quill (1992), while Ted Cruz successfully led a coalition of 31 states as Texas solicitor general in advocating for an individual right to bear arms in District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008).
 
While more than half of current members in Congress have significant state experience—including 226 members who served previously in state legislatures—both parties appear to be increasingly fielding candidates from their activist bases rather than from the state house. Only 27 of the 66 new House freshmen have served in state legislatures.
 
This group includes Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard, who became the Hawaii House’s youngest member ever when she was elected in 2002 before resigning just two years into her term when her National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. The list is rounded out by six members who have served in senior appointed roles in their respective states, including former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams and former Illinois Adjutant General Bill Enyart.
 
The state-heavy resumes of these new freshmen are sorely needed in a Congress that will be grappling with a growing fiscal crisis that will necessitate changes to entitlements, discretionary programs and revenue streams, which all have direct implications for state budgets. As Congress weighs shifting more responsibilities to states—a concept that often sounds good on paper but can lead to unfunded mandates—having strong advocates for federalism on both sides of the aisle, such as Heitkamp and Cruz, will be helpful.
 
Similarly, as Congress works to reform the tax code, a process with implications for state income tax deductions and tax-exempt bonds, state legislative leaders with detailed tax reform experience, such as Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, and experienced technical experts such as former Washington state Department of Revenue Director Suzanne DelBene, will be on hand to have their voices heard. The challenge will be to find welcoming ears in a town where listening is in short supply.

State Leaders and the New Congress

AttachmentSize
113thcongressstateexperience.pdf553.12 KB