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After the Ballot Box

2012-12-01, Feature, by Tushar Gurjal

Even though many people sum up the November 2012 elections as status quo, it won’t be a slow year for park and recreation advocates by any means.The most significant story coming out of the 2012 election may be how little the election will change Washington. President Obama’s reelection victory guarantees a continuation of his policies, while the status quo prevails in Congress as the Senate remains controlled by Democrats and the House remains controlled by Republicans. This simplistic analysis is deceptive.

As of the time of this writing, the election results provided 93 new members of Congress—with numerous House races yet to be decided. That means that when the 113th Congress convenes in January, at least 17 percent of its members will be new. A new Congress also means changes in committee leadership. Additionally, although the president’s policies may continue, many of the people in his administration will change as various cabinet secretaries and agency heads depart and new ones are appointed. These individuals are responsible for formulating and directing agency policies and priorities. All of these factors will have an impact on the legislative process and park and recreation policy.

The Congress

The biggest surprise this election was that the Democrats strengthened their hold on the Senate. The party composition of the Senate for the 113th Congress is 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and two Independents. Democrats took Republican seats in Indiana and Massachusetts and beat back strong challengers in Montana, Missouri, and North Dakota. An independent winner from Maine, Angus King, has committed to caucusing with the Democrats, giving their caucus a total of 55 votes. Harry Reid (D-NV) will remain Majority Leader and Dick Durbin (D-IL) will remain Assistant Majority Leader. On the Republican side, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will probably remain Minority Leader, while it is unknown who will replace Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who is retiring, as Assistant Minority Leader.

In the Senate, 60 votes are needed to begin debate on a bill or end debate in order to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Because of these rules, procedural delays plagued much legislation in the 112th Congress. Frustrated by the lack of legislative movement, Sen. Reid is reportedly mulling implementation of the “nuclear option,” a change of Senate rules to allow a simple majority vote in order to shield motions to proceed to new business from delaying tactics. Such a change could result in more legislation being debated in the Senate in the 113th Congress.

In the Senate, the game of musical committee chairs is about to begin.

On the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will likely remain the chair. Although Boxer is a proponent of conservation and alternative transportation, during negotiations for the last transportation bill, she traded conservation and transportation provisions for oil pipeline and coal concessions. This is of importance because the current surface transportation law expires in September 2014, which means the 113th Congress will soon begin working on the reauthorization. The new EPW ranking member will probably be Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

The chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee will probably be Ron Wyden (D-OR). Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), an advocate for Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) state assistance program, will most likely remain the ranking member. We are unlikely to see a change in leadership on the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee as Jack Reed (D-RI) is likely to remain chair with Murkowski as ranking member. Having these two senators lead this particular subcommittee has produced favorable results for the LWCF state assistance program.

Much less surprising than the Senate results was Republican retention of control of the House. The Republican majority will contain at least 233 members. While Democrats made modest gains, Republicans took advantage of 2010 redistricting to maintain their majority. John Boehner (R-OH) will remain the Speaker of the House, while the Majority Leader will be Eric Cantor (R-VA). This will probably continue the tension between Boehner, who represents the establishment wing of the Republican Party, and Cantor, who represents the Tea Party wing of the GOP.

After much speculation that she would step down, Nancy Pelosi announced she would remain as Minority Leader. Had she decided otherwise, Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and James Clyburn (D-SC) would have been potential replacements.

The House will also see some new committee heads.
Doc Hastings (R-WA) will remain the current chair of the House Natural Resources Committee—he was being considered for the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee. Hastings was a vocal opponent of $700 million of dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the last transportation bill and in his committee overall.

Bill Shuster (R-PA) wants to be the House Transportation Committee chair, replacing John Mica (R-FL), but Mica is seeking a waiver from Speaker Boehner to remain chair. During the most recent surface transportation reauthorization, Shuster called for reform to many of the existing programs, including the Transportation Enhancements program which, among other things, provides funding for trails.

Mike Simpson (R-ID) will likely hold on to the chair position for the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, while Jim Moran (D-VA) is likely to remain ranking member. It is unlikely there will be many changes to the composition of this committee’s membership, which means much diligence will be required from park advocates in the fight for LWCF state assistance funding since the House proposed zero funding in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

The Administration

Historically, the administration of a president’s second term is typically a time marked by a great deal of change. At the Department of Transportation, Secretary Ray LaHood has not definitively ruled out a second term. LaHood, the only Republican in the President’s cabinet, is a vocal supporter of non-motorized transportation. If he chooses not to stay, Antonio Villaraigosa, the current Democratic mayor of Los Angeles and an advocate of infrastructure improvement, is a top candidate. Other potential nominees include former Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH), who has also been a proponent of investing in transportation infrastructure.

Shaun Donovan is currently Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and has indicated he would like to remain. If the President wants someone else, one possibility is Carol Galante. Galante is the acting Federal Housing Administration Commissioner and Assistant Secretary for Housing at HUD.

The current Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) is Ken Salazar. A partisan Senate would possibly block the confirmation of another DOI secretary, making it more likely that Salazar will remain. If he does not remain, a possible candidate is Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. John Berry, previously the director of the White House Office of Personnel Management and a director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Zoo, is another likely candidate.

For the position of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, the former Democratic governor of Kansas, will probably remain. If she were to leave, possible replacements include Lois Quam, the executive director of the Global Health Initiative at the State Department, and several Democratic governors, including Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, and Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go

These predications reflect the status of affairs in Washington at the time this article was written. Some announcements may be made by press time. Many final decisions and Senate confirmations will not be determined until Congress reconvenes in January 2013. Even though many people sum up the November 2012 elections as status quo, it won’t be a slow year for park and recreation advocates by any means. There are many new faces in Congress to educate on the priorities of the field of parks and recreation. All these shifts in committee leadership make a difference in what legislation moves forward and what will not, and that means much work ahead for advocates of parks and recreation.

Tushar Gurjal works for The Ferguson Group, NRPA’s outside lobbying firm ([email protected]). 

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