By LAURA E. LEE
WASHINGTON (January 21, 2011) When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in last year's election, it appeared the Maryland congressional delegation may have lost power and influence. But at the start of the 112th session, political experts and members are optimistic the state will have enough clout to advance its priorities.
"In the context of being in the minority, we still have a very strong delegation," said Al Wynn, former Democratic congressman from Maryland's 4th District.
Although House Republicans will set the floor agenda, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, does not think the shift should keep members of either party from moving their priorities forward.
"It just introduces a new dynamic," he said. "You may have to figure out a different path to get your particular proposal into the pipeline to build the advocacy behind it."
The delegation won't be in the same position to further President Obama's agenda, which he will outline in his State of the Union address Tuesday, but on Maryland issues, its representatives say they'll work together.
With the change in majority, several prominent Democrats lost their positions. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, moved from House majority leader to House minority whip. Baltimore native Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., went from speaker of the House to minority leader.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said the changes that put his party in the minority in the lower chamber will not hinder the ability of the Maryland delegation to effectively serve its constituencies.
"The dynamics in Washington have changed but the Maryland congressional delegation is very well-situated," he said.
Maryland Democrats retain some power in a Republican-controlled chamber because of their committee leadership positions, said Josh Kurtz, a columnist for Center Maryland.
After significant Democratic losses in November, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, resigned from his position as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But his new position as ranking member on the House Budget Committee enables him to continue to advance Democratic objectives, said Susan Turnbull, Maryland Democratic Party chairwoman.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, is the ranking member on the influential House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
With their committee positions, Van Hollen and Cummings "will at least have platforms to argue their case and that will both help Maryland and make them important agitators for the Democratic team in general," Kurtz said.
The loss of power for Marylanders was not restricted to Democrats. Maryland native Michael Steele, lost his bid for re-election as head of the Republican National Committee to Wisconsinite Reince Priebus. But the Republican Party gained a seat in the House with the defeat of Democrat Frank Kratovil by Andy Harris, a GOP state senator from Cockeysville, in Maryland's 1st District.
Harris sees some common ground with the Democratic members of the delegation. "I look forward to working with them on issues that are important to the Chesapeake Bay, for instance," he said.
Several Democratic delegation members share Harris' sentiments.
"The Maryland delegation has a long history of putting politics aside when it comes to issues of importance to our state," Hoyer said in a statement. "I hope we will be able to continue that strong track record."
On both sides of the aisle, members vowed to push legislation for the Chesapeake Bay.
"Obviously being from Maryland and having the Chesapeake Bay as our backdrop, I think that's something the whole delegation holds dear," Sarbanes said.
The power and influence of parties may matter less if members from both sides are willing to cooperate on Maryland-based priorities.
"I see no reason," said Wynn, "why people on both sides of the aisle from the Maryland delegation wouldn't want to make sure that Maryland's interests are protected."