Josh Kurtz -- Mission: Control

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If Democrats lose control of Congress this November, will Nancy Pelosi pull a Hastert? Or will she stay and fight?

You’ll recall that Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who was Pelosi’s predecessor as Speaker of the House, wasted no time bailing when Democrats seized control of the House in 2006. He resigned his House seat early in 2007 (and it then fell to a Democrat in a special election). Would Pelosi do the same?

It’s a question no one on Capitol Hill wants to ask publicly. But it’s one of many that will be asked and will affect Maryland’s Congressional delegation if the House or Senate flips to the GOP. Both of our Senators, and seven of our eight House members, are Democrats. Life for them will obviously change drastically if there’s a Republican takeover of Capitol Hill.

But in discussing how things would change for Marylanders, you may as well start with Pelosi — who, after all, is not only Speaker, but a Baltimore native who retains many connections to Maryland despite her four-plus decades in California.

Pelosi is pugnacious enough to want to stick around even if Democrats lose control. After all, Republicans need to flip 39 seats to win back the House; chances are if they succeed, Democrats will only need to win back a handful of seats in 2012 to get the majority back. Even though she’s now 70 years old, Pelosi may decide it’s worth sticking around for at least one election cycle, to see if she can get the big job back.

But when a majority party falls into the minority, its members get restive. Fairly or not, Democratic Congressmen may lay some of the blame for their losses at Pelosi’s feet. They may vote her out as leader — or she may conclude that it’s simply time to move on.

Which brings us to Pelosi’s No. 2, the House majority leader, Maryland’s own Steny Hoyer.

Hoyer has always dreamed of being Speaker of the House. But Hoyer’s path to the top job may have been permanently blocked when he lost a long-ago race with Pelosi to be House Democratic whip. Rivals for so long (even though they had known each other as Capitol Hill interns in the early 1960s), Pelosi and Hoyer have done an admirable job of working together and tending to their caucus for the last several years.

Hoyer is nine months older than Pelosi. Would he have a chance to succeed her as the top House Democrat if she were to move on? His age suggests not — but then, you never know.

Most House committee chairmen are of Pelosi and Hoyer’s generation — or older. So are the two Democratic leaders who are behind Pelosi and Hoyer in the leadership hierarchy — Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, who is 69, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut, who is 61. It’s hard to see any of these people moving into the top slot if Pelosi leaves. Hoyer has more stature, more ties to key under-the-Dome constituencies, and more chits to call in.

Which brings us to another Marylander in House leadership, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A lot of people assumed Rahm Emanuel would be next in line to become Speaker after Pelosi — until he scrambled the conventional wisdom by becoming White House chief of staff instead.

While there remain wild rumors that Emanuel is going to try to claim his old Chicago-based House seat back before too long so he can bid for Speaker, that seems improbable. So attention is being paid increasingly to a pair of younger House members who could work their way into the highest echelons of leadership some time soon — and Van Hollen is one of them.

Van Hollen is 51 and was elected in 2002. His chief rival is seen as Rep. Xavier Becerra, a 52-year-old Angeleno who is close to Pelosi and was elected in 1992. He is currently the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

Regardless of what happens to these three Marylanders — Pelosi, Hoyer and Van Hollen — the rest of the delegation will inevitably be affected if Democrats lose control of Congress.

Most will simultaneously rise in seniority on the committees they serve, because presumably some senior members will be leaving town if there’s a Republican wave. On the other hand, if the GOP takes over, their path to leadership positions may be blocked indefinitely.

If you’re scoring at home, when it comes to seniority among the rest of Maryland’s House Democrats, the order is: Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Donna Edwards, Frank Kratovil. Kratovil, of course, is one of the most vulnerable members of the House — anywhere — in November.

And what of the lone Maryland House Republican, Roscoe Bartlett? Bartlett, who is 84, is in a tricky position. He’s got plenty of seniority, and is in fact the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, and is also No. 2 on the Small Business Committee.

But GOP leaders find him a little flaky, and already passed him by when he had a chance to become the top Republican on Armed Services last year. They may be inclined to do so again.

As for Maryland’s Senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, they certainly wouldn’t be happy if the Senate fell into Republican hands. But they’re both senior and well-respected legislators. Good Senators can stay effective even if they serve in the minority.

Of course, all this is pure conjecture. Will the Democrats really lose control of Congress this year? Hard to say — and harder still when the political discourse, despite an ongoing environmental disaster that matches the economic disaster we’ve long been in, continues to be dominated by things like phantom White House job offers and alleged candidate infidelities.

Nobody said democracy was pretty.

Josh Kurtz is a managing editor at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Post Plays Favorites

Red Storm Rising

Michael & Me

Wanted: Fresh Blood

Taylor-Made

Black and Blue?

Slugfest

Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.