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Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate,

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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Pressure builds on Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr to resign

Democratic Governer Mike Beebe and state’s Republican congressional delegation all call on Darr to step down for violating ethics rules

♦By Rich Shumate,

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr is under increasing pressure to resign, after the state ethics commission fined him $11,000 for misusing campaign funds during his 2010 campaign.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Darr, a Republican, accepted that fine on December 30. But in a letter to the commission, he blamed sloppy record-keeping for the violations, insisting that he never “intentionally took money that didn’t belong to me.”

While Darr has not made any public statements since the ethics committee announced its decision, his attorney told local media that he has no plans to step aside.

But a day after the fines were handed down, Democratic Governor Mike Beebe said it would be “in everybody’s interest, including Mr. Darr, if he resigned.”

Perhaps more ominously for Darr, his fellow Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation — U.S. Senator John Boozman and U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Rick Crawford — issued a very blunt joint statement calling on Darr to go.

“As elected officials, we are keepers of the public trust. We are bound by a very strict code of conduct that is the basis of that trust,” the statement said. “Based on Lt. Gov. Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”

Darr is the second statewide constitutional officer to run into trouble this year. Former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner, a Democrat, resigned after she was indicted for allegedly accepting bribes from a state contractor that were delivered in a pie box. Her trial is set for July.

If Darr resigns, a special election would be held to pick his replacement.

Darr, 40, a restaurant owner from Springdale, had never held elective office before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2010. He based his campaign, in part, on opposition to Obamacare.

In its report, the ethics commission said Darr made personal use of more than $31,000 in campaign funds and charged more than $3,500 of personal expenses on a state-issued credit card. He was also cited for receiving improper reimbursement for nearly $3,600 in travel expenses from his home in Springdale to his office in Little Rock.

He was also cited for mistakes in his campaign finance reports.

The ethics complaint against Darr was filed by Democratic blogger Mark Campbell, first reported in his Blue Hog Report.

After the ethics issues surfaced last summer, Darr abandoned his campaign for the 4th District seat in the U.S. House. He has not announced whether he would seek a second term as lieutenant governor.

Two Republicans, State Reps. Andy Mayberry and Charlie Collins, have announced they are running for lieutenant governor. Democrat John Burkhalter, a state highway commissioner, is also running.

Arkansas Senate race awash in money 15 months out

Senator Mark Pryor and his expected challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton, are raising millions, while outside groups pour money with abandon into Arkansas.

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — More than 15 months before a single vote is cast for the U.S. Senate — indeed, before Arkansans even know for sure who will be running — outside groups from both sides of the political aisle have already dumped more than $1 million in ads onto TV viewers across the Natural State.

This spending wave is even more striking considering that Arkansas is the second-smallest Southern state, with fewer than 3 million people, and has only two major television markets.


Senator Mark Pryor

Incumbent Senator Mark Pryor, considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 election cycle, raised $1.2 million in the second quarter of 2013, with nearly $4 million in the bank, according to figures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

However, Pryor has already had to go up on TV to counter a negative ad from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which poured $350,000 into Arkansas earlier this year.

Bloomberg’s spots lambasted Pryor for his vote against President Obama’s call for expanded background checks for gun purchases. In his reponse, Pryor said he was defending the Second Amendment against a proposal that wouldn’t have prevented any of the recent mass shootings.

All told, Pryor spent $700,000 in the second quarter, or nearly 60 percent of what he managed to raise during that period.


Representative Tom Cotton

Meanwhile, the man considered to Pryor’s likely GOP opponent, Representative Tom Cotton of Dardanelle, raised $611,000 during the second quarter and now has slightly more than $1 million in the bank.

Cotton, an Iraq war veteran in just his first term in the House, has been playing coy about whether he’ll give up his safe 4th District seat to challenge Pryor. He says he won’t make an annoucement on his plans until after the August congressional recess.

But national Democratic groups clearly think Cotton will run. In a pre-emptive strike, two outside liberal groups, Patriot Majority USA and the Senate Majority PAC, pummeled Cotton with $308,000 worth of TV attacks earlier this summer.

So far, Cotton has not felt the need to rebut those spots with ads of his own.

Another member of the state’s congressional delegation, Representative Steve Womack of Rogers, has said he, too, might run against Pryor.  In the second quarter, Womack raised $123,000 with $600,000 on hand, putting him well behind Cotton.

A GOP primary is considered unlikely. Womack, who has been in the House since 2011, is not expected to make the Senate race if Cotton runs.

Pryor, scion of one of Arkansas’ most prominent political families, barely faced opposition when he ran for a second term in 2008. But Republicans are smelling blood in the water this time around, largely because of the senator’s vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

Obama is deeply unpopular in Arkansas, losing the state by 23 points in 2012.

Two outside conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Action, have already spent more than $500,000 in negative ads against Pryor.

The Club for Growth was one of Cotton’s major financial backers in his successful House race in 2012.

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