Posted on March 30, 1992 in Washington Watch

This year’s congressional elections may produce the largest number of new members of Congress in the last forty years.

Political analysts estimate that the number of new members elected may be as high as 120, but will certainly not be less than eighty. By comparison, in recent years the average number of new members elected has been around forty.

The reasons for these projected changes should be understood.

1) Reapportionment

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, and the number of congressmen per state is proportional to each state’s population.

Every ten years the United States conducts a census in order to calculate the number of congressmen appropriated to each state during the following decade. After the census is complete, those states showing a proportional rise in population receive additional seat(s) in Congress and those reflecting a relative decline in population seat(s) in Congress.

Since United States congressional seats are elected on the district level, population shifts mean that each state must redraw congressional districts, creating new ones where necessary, eliminating some and combining others—so that the average population per district is approximately the same nationwide.

The 1992 elections are the first since the 1990 census. The 1990 census showed dramatic shifts in population from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and the West. As a result, states such as Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio lost a total of seven congressional seats while California, Florida and Texas gained a total of fourteen seats in Congress.

The total number of congressional seats moving between states is 19, but that is not all of the change. With congressional maps in other states being redrawn, many other races will be directly affected by the changes.

The effects of redrawn congressional maps can be great. For example, while it is true that in 1982 pro-Israel PACs poured money into the campaign of former Representative Paul Findley’s opponent—a real culprit in Findley’s defeat was the 1980 redistricting. Republican Paul Findley saw his district change to include a large number of Democrats, making it easier for Democrat Richard Durbin to defeat him. This year an additional 10-15 congressmen may lose their elections due to changes in their newly drawn districts.

2) Resignation

Each year a number of Congressmen resign, some to pursue other careers, some to seek higher office, and others as a result of scandals. This year the number of those resigning is already a high 36 with a potential 20 more to come.

While 12 of the 36 who have resigned have done so to run for the Senate, in many cases the others who are resigning, have done so to avoid running against fellow congressmen in districts that have been combined due to reapportionment, or because they didn’t want to run in their newly redrawn congressional districts.

3) Anti-Incumbent Mood

A third factor that will in all probability contribute to the defeat of many sitting members of Congress is an anti-Washington, anti-incumbent mood that is so pervasive in the United States today. This mood has been fueled by recent revelations and allegations of congressional abuse of “perks” in Washington (check-bouncing in the House bank, use of campaign funds to buy cars and houses, and the now infamous 33% pay raise that Congress voted itself late last year).

Not only have George Bush’s popularity ratings come down, but so has Congress’. A recent poll has shown that 58% of the American public blames Congress for the poor economic condition in the United States, and an equal percentage believes that most congressmen do not deserve to be reelected.

***

An Example: Big Changes in the Illinois’ March 17th Elections

The recent primaries in Illinois provide direct evidence of the impact that these changes will have in changing the faces in the new Congress. As a result of reapportionment Illinois lost two seats in 1992. Districts were combined and maps were redrawn statewide.

Early on Representative Frank Annunzio, a venerable fourteen-term House member from Chicago resigned rather than face a new district. Four other seats were combined into two, forcing four members of Congress to run against each other. Representative William Lipinski defeated Representative Marty Russo in one race, and Representative Glenn Poshard beat Representative Terry Bruce in the other.

African American Gus Savage, a six-term congressman, saw his largely black congressional district changed to include a larger white suburban vote. Savage had beaten challenger Mel Reynolds, also an African American, three times before (in 1986, ‘88 and ‘90). Each time Savage challenged Reynolds for having received support from pro-Israel PACs and individual donors. At times Savage’s attacks bordered on anti-Semitism, but he won by using this issue to mobilize his strong nationalist base of African Americans. Savages’ new district was significantly changed to include more whites and wealthy blacks. As a result, this time Reynolds’ support base grew and Savages’ attacks did not take hold. He lost his reelection bid.

Five-term African American Representative Charlie Hayes, who was reelected in 1990 with 94% of the vote, was also defeated this year by an African American challenger, city councilman Bobby Rush. Reapportionment was not a big factor in this race. A more important factor in Hayes’ defeat was the revelation just a few days before the election that Hayes had `bounced’ 716 checks at the House Bank since 1988.

Thus the results from this one state’s primary election was five incumbents out and two new faces in! While the other states will probably not reflect the same dramatic changes, Illinois does provide a glimpse of the type of changes we can expect to see in 1992.

***

Arab Americans Running for Congress

In 1993, when the 103rd Congress is sworn in, a record number of new faces will most probably be present and a few of those new members may be Arab Americans. In addition to Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar (an Ohio Democrat) and Nick Joe Rahall (a Democrat from West Virginia) who are running for reelection, this year will also see six other Arab Americans running for Congress.

Mary Rose Oakar faces a real challenge this year. Her district has been redrawn to add more Republicans to what had been an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Mary Rose was one of the 24 members of Congress who has been accused of being one of the check-bouncers at the House Bank, although she can show that the accusation is largely exaggerated. Her opponent in the Democratic primary, County Auditor Tim McCormack, will undoubtedly try to use this issue against her. Should she win the primary, she may face a strong Republican challenger in State Senator Tony Sanagra.

Nick Joe Rahall’s district has been left largely intact and is considered safe, though he will face a well-financed challenge from Ben Waldron.

Wadie Deddeh (Democrat), who has served more than twenty years in the California State Legislature will be running for Congress in a newly created congressional district in Southern California.

Luis Acle (Republican), an official in the Reagan administration, will be running on the Republican side for the same seat as seat as Wadie Deddeh. This election represents the first time that two Arab Americans might run against each other for a congressional seat.

Gary Hamud (Democrat) is making his second run for Congress in a newly redrawn congressional district in the Los Angeles area.

Sarkis Khouri (Republican), a political newcomer, will be running in a new congressional district in Orange County, California.

State Representative Eugene Saloom (Democrat) who has served in Pennsylvania House for twenty years will be running for Pennsylvania’s twentieth congressional district, left open by the retirement of 13-term Democrat Joseph Gaydos.

Also important to note is Sam Zakhem, a former State Senator and former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, who is running for the U.S. Senate from Colorado.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

comments powered by Disqus