Saturday, April 18, 2009

Al Franken Seniority

How much seniority has Franken lost?

Senator Al Franken continues to languish in legal challenge hell, as the man he beat, Norm Coleman, plays the slowest stallball seen in Minnesota since the George Mikan era. My brother and the rest of Minnesota remain underrepresented. If you have to have only one senator, Amy Klobuchar ain't bad, but Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken is better.

Eventually, of course, the frivolous appeals will be exhausted and Senator Franken will take his proper place. But there's still some lasting harm: Minnesota has lost Senate seniority.

Senority, while not as all-important as it was before the 1970s, is still a big deal, determining committee asignments. Day of swearing in rules over all, but after that there's a strict set of criteria for classes sworn in together, which gives you an interesting, Senate-centric view of the world:

  • Former Senators returning to the august body jump to the head of the class. Thus Frank Lautenberg is at the top of the class of January 3, 2003. But he does NOT get back his seniority from his three terms of prior service (which apparently is a sore point for him).

  • Former House members are next, in order of length of service. This helps both of Iowa's senators. Chuck Grassley's three House terms put him ahead of Arlen Specter, and Tom Harkin's five terms bump him ahead of Mitch McConnell. (Harkin would rank ahead of John Kerry, too, but Kerry was sworn in one day early specifically to gain seniority, a practice that's since changed.)

  • Interestingly, prior House service is more important to seniority than being a former president or vice president, If Walter Mondale had beaten Norm Coleman after Paul Wellstone died, his past Senate service would have mattered more than his term as VP. He would have ranked near the top of the class--but behind Lautenberg, who had been a senator longer (18 years vs. Mondale's ten years and change).

    (Aside: Had the third candidate in the Franken-Coleman race, Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, won, he would have ranked at the top of the class, since he was Jesse Ventura's interim Senate appointee after Wellstone's death. And where's he been in this recount? My buddy who's an IP activist says Barkley said at this weekend's IP convention that early on he'd been asked what role he wanted in the recount and replied "none whatsoever.")

  • In an inside the Beltway way, prior cabinet service trumps governor, as Lamar! Alexander, who was both, can tell you. In the class of 2009, this puts Mike Johanns of Nebraska (also both) ahead of former governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Length of service puts Shaheen (6 years as governor) above Mark Warner of Virginia (4 years) and Jim Risch of Idaho (seven months of interim service after Dirk Kempthorne went to the Interior Department to remodel the bathrooms.)

  • When all else fails, we turn it over to the BCS computers and try to figure out which team had the stronger schedule. No, actually, it's population of state based on the most recent Census at the time of election. (Thus Russ Feingold outranks Patty Murray even though Washington is now larger than Wisconsin.)

    This tiebreaker puts Chris Dodd one notch ahead of Grassley--which doesn't matter much. Seniority within your party is what makes the difference in committee assignments and chairs. So seniority, even though it's lumped together, is really two different contests, just like an AFC team can make the playoffs with a weaker record than an NFC team that misses out.

    So how does the delay affect him, Al Franken? More than it normally would.

    Had Senator Franken been sworn in on January 3rd, 2009, he would have been near the bottom of the class. Former five term House members the Udall cousins are tops, with Mark of larger Colorado ahead of Tom of New Mexico. Next is Johanns, then, as noted, the three ex-governors.

    This leaves first-time office holder Franken tied with three others. They are all prior elected officials, but Kay Hagan and Jeff Merkley's service in state legislatures and Mark Begich's time as Anchorage mayor count for nothing. Franken would rank behind Hagan from larger North Carolina but ahead of Merkley from smaller Oregon and Begich from smaller Alaska.

    That would have put Franken at number 97 out of 99 on January 3, with Obama's seat vacant amidst the Blagojevich opera buffa. By now Franken would have already moved up to 94th with the resignations of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Ken Salazar.

    But remember: date of swearing in trumps all. The tradition is so firm that Harry Reid or his successor would have a tough time making an exception for Franken. And because of Norm Coleman's delaying tactics, Franken drops behind not only Merkley and Begich, but also behind the four appointees who have taken office since Franken's original swearing in date.

    Making matters worse for Minnesota: all six of the senators Franken should outrank, but doesn't, are fellow Democrats.

    How much this matters in the long run depends on the longevity of the six senators who leapfrogged over Franken. Two of the appointees don't really matter. Ted Kaufmann, Beau Biden's placeholder, isn't running. And even if Roland Burris--who raised all of $845 last quarter--survives a primary and general election, at age 71 he won't be around long enough to move too far up the ranks.

    Michael Bennet and Kirsten Gillibrand will probably face primaries, too, but after a first electoral test they, and Merkley and Begich, could last awhile (particularly Gillibrand, who at 42 is the youngest Senator). Franken, at age 57, could be around long enough that those lost months of seniority will make a difference between him and let's say Gillibrand getting a chairmanship sometime around 2018. And Minnesota will have Norm Coleman to thank for that.

    Thom said...

    but Kay Hagan and Jeff Merkley's service in the state senateMinor correction. Jeff Merkley served 10 years in the Oregon House, not Senate, the last two as Speaker.

    Woody said...

    Thanks for digging deep into this stuff. I knew it got messy, but I didn't know how this sausage was made.

    It reminds me of the sad case of Rep. Ciro Rodriguez from Texas. He dared to vote against the Authorization of the Use of Force in Iraq, and so Tom DeLay and the Bushies went after him.

    Ciro's district was gerrymandered in 2003 to ensure his defeat in the next primary. It wasn't until four years later that the Supreme Court got around to ruling that the gerrymander had violated the Voting Rights Act. With newly drawn lines, Ciro won re-election to the House.

    Based on his seniority from his first election in 1996 he would be sitting very near the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. But no. He outranks some peers elected with him in 2006, but he may never get to Chair a House committee. Sadly, the full effects of the racist gerrymander will remain for the rest of Ciro's career, to the detriment of his constituents, all Hispanic voters waiting to see a Hispanic Chair of a House committee, and of the people of Texas, who lost clout because of other purges of Democratic Reps as well.

    Kari Chisholm said...

    And by January 3rd, you meant January 6th. In 2009, Senators were sworn in on January 6th.