Michigan's Clout

Next week, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) will become the longest-serving House member in history, but that doesn't mean his home state won't continue to lose power in Congress.
Dingell and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) are the two longest-serving House members in the chamber today but their powers as committee chairmen aren't likely to last for more than a few terms with each man in his eighties. In addition, Michigan is poised to lose a House seat after the 2010 census. This coming triple whammy for the Wolverine State in the House will greatly diminish its power.

Michigan may not even have to wait until next year to see its power slip in the House, though. Last month Dingell was voted down as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he helped protect Detroit automakers. In 2007, an effort led by Nancy Pelosi to create a select committee on global warming was portrayed by Dingell as an infringement on his energy and commerce committee's responsibilities.

Conyers could face heat from Congress and the press over ethics issues now that his wife, Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, is under federal investigation for allegedly taking bribes from a company in exchange for a vote to give them a city contract to haul sewage sludge. Rep. Conyers has not been implicated in this investigation, but he did accept responsibility for possibly violating ethics rules by asking staffers to work on his wife's campaign in 2007.  

Michigan will probably not see its Senate influence diminish soon, even though Sen. Carl Levin (D) will be 75 this year and 81 when he'll decide to run for a seventh term in 2016. It wouldn't be unusual for another octogenarian to be in the Senate, but nor would retirement. Debbie Stabenow, 59, skated to victory for her second term in 2006.

Michigan's loss of clout would be beneficial to the state's Republican Party, which would like to see an open-seat race in Dingell's suburban Detroit district and a potentially the chance to capture one senate seat that it hasn't held since 2000.

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Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.

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