Minority Blues

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 17, 2010

It's not just a matter of seeing their preferred policies ignored. Imagine how frustrating it will be for Markey, who worked so hard for legislation to combat global warming, to see Republicans hold hearings (as they have promised to do) questioning the integrity of climate scientists. Tierney and Lynch will have to watch new Oversight chairman Darrell Issa investigate every wild accusation from the right-wing blogosphere.

Meanwhile, the re-election efforts drained a lot of war chests — Frank even ended up loaning his campaign $200,000 of his own — which will have to be replenished. Fundraising, the least appealing part of the job for most politicians, will take up more of their time than ever.

They may also get dragged into unpleasant party infighting, as their losing side struggles to assign blame, and determine strategy. That's already begun, with the battle over keeping Pelosi as the Democrats' leader in the House.

All of this will be much easier to put up with if, as Massachusetts congressmen hope, national voters bring Democrats back into the House on the coattails of Obama's re-election.

"Democrats didn't lose so badly that they can't see a cycle where they can take back control," agrees Michael Goldman, another long-time consultant in Boston. "They may want to hang in there to see if the Democrats can take control back in two years."

But if unemployment remains high, the delegation's members could anticipate Republicans adding the presidency and Senate majority to their 2010 gains. "[Democrats] could be looking at Extended Wilderness Syndrome," like after 1994, says Frank advisor and campaign manager Kevin Sowyrda.

And who wants to stick around for that? Not Capuano, for one. "Being a member of a permanent minority is not something I want to be," he says.

Some of his colleagues will have it better — seniority still has its perks, even in the minority. They'll have the chance to influence the budget, negotiate with Republicans over legislation, and use hearings as a platform to air criticisms. But they'll be the ones reacting and responding to GOP initiatives, after four years of setting the agenda themselves.

And as if there aren't enough troubles ahead, yet another issue clouds the horizon: redistricting.

Massachusetts is almost certain to lose a congressional district, following completion of the 2010 Census. The state legislature will redraw the commonwealth into nine pieces — unavoidably forcing two incumbents into the same district, where only one can survive.

Obviously, nobody wants to be the one redistricted into oblivion. But even for the rest, the process is unwelcome. The boundaries will shift for everyone, forcing each to start building relationships in unfamiliar towns and neighborhoods. Yet another hassle.

Little liberal lions
If they can put up with all of this aggravation, however, the members of the Massachusetts delegation might actually emerge in better position than they started.

If Democrats do return to the House majority in the reasonably near future, the power of individual members will be determined, in large part, by what happened when they were in the minority. Massachusetts's delegation, full of high-ranking committee members and experienced political maneuverers, is well-positioned to take advantage.

Partly, that's a result of simply surviving, so they will build up seniority during the out years.

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