Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Historical Footnote

By Marc Korman.

After my last post about Chris Van Hollen, it was suggested to me that the reason Van Hollen could not be in the elected leadership of the House Democrats was because Steny Hoyer was already there. Between the Majority Leader representing Maryland and Nancy Pelosi being born here, I was told that Maryland is already heavily represented in the House leadership.

It is true that with Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader and the native Pelosi as Speaker, Maryland seems to be doing well in the Congressional leadership ranks. Have we always had such luck?

The House
The only House of Representatives leadership position mentioned in the Constitution is the Speaker. It is the only leadership position elected by the entire House. The parties tend to unite around one candidate so that whoever wins within the majority party will become Speaker.

Maryland is one of four of the original thirteen states to never have a Speaker representing the state. It is nice that Nancy Pelosi is from Baltimore, but last I checked C-SPAN lists her as (D-CA). We are joined by Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Hampshire in the lackluster category of fighting the revolution and not having a Speaker of the House.

After the Speaker, the other members of the House leadership are elected within their own parties. The top leadership structure of the Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference are the same. Each party has a Leader, known as the Majority or Minority Leader depending on the party’s status, a Whip, a Chair, and a Vice Chair.

Maryland has not fared well in House leadership. The only Leader or Whip, positions that first came about in the late 1890s, Maryland has ever had is Steny Hoyer. There has never been anyone else in any of the top leadership posts representing Maryland. Pelosi served as Minority Leader and Whip as well, but again, she was representing California in Congress.

The Senate
We have fared only slightly better in the Senate. The posts we know of today as Majority and Minority Leader of the Senate, the top leadership posts, developed in the 1920s. No one from Maryland has ever held the position.

Party Whips, the second ranking member of each party in the Senate, actually came about a decade earlier than the leader position. Unfortunately, Maryland has never had one of those either.

Senate President Pro Tempore is the only Senate leadership position listed in the Constitution. The original purpose of the office was to preside over the Senate when the Vice President was away. In the nation’s early years, the Senate President Pro Tempore was picked each time the Vice President was away, so there could be many different Senate Presidents during a single year. In 1890, the Senate began electing Senate Presidents for an entire Congress. Since World War II, it has largely been an honorific position given to the longest serving member of the majority party.

Maryland has had a little luck with this job. John Howard held the post for six days back in November of 1800. Samuel Smith held it for thirteen days in December of 1805. Both Howard and Smith were Senators from Maryland.

Perhaps Chris Van Hollen’s non-Maryland colleagues in the House disagree, but when I hear that our Congressman cannot move up in the House leadership because there are too many Marylanders running the House, my Maryland pride stirs up and I say it is about time!