DeMint resignation is a big deal for fish

The DC political world is atwitter today with news that Senator Jim DeMint will exit the Senate next month to lead the Heritage Foundation. This is a huge development — not only for political conservatives, but also for fish geeks.

Jim DeMint was in line to succeed Texan Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison as Ranking Member on the powerful Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Accordingly, he would have joined Alaska’s Mark Begich atop the panel with oversight of the Department of Commerce, including NOAA.

There was real disquiet among DC ocean types about what that would have meant: not because of Senator DeMint’s prominent fiscal and social conservatism, but because of his institutional tactics and approach to procedure. DeMint would have been the Senate’s first tea party chairman, and it was widely anticipated that he’d employ the same stonewalling tactics he’s used repeatedly since joining the Senate in his new role. Republican committee staff, most expected, would completely turn over. And a Senate committee with a long history of bipartisan action, many feared, would become ineffectual — potentially for the next six years.

With today’s announcement, that threat recedes. Although positions are not yet confirmed for next Congress, Senator John Thune (R-SD) is likely to be the new Ranking Member. He is a conservative Republican, but he’s no iconoclast. For those who want to see meaningful and functional oversight of NOAA in the years to come, The Heritage Foundation’s gain is also ours.

New representation for many US fishermen

When I wrote earlier in the week that this was a ‘change’ election for fisheries, I was thinking in part about fishermen around the country who will have new representation in the United States Congress. Many fishermen have relied on the same representatives to promote their interests in Washington for years or even decades, only to see them retiring or defeated in their reelection efforts. I won’t bore FishHQ readers with a detailed analysis of every freshman and their likely fisheries bent (which takes restraint for a junkie like me…), but I do want to flag some key places where things are a-changin’. Stay tuned for analysis of Senate turnover, and shifts in committee and leadership slots. For today, we’ll focus on the House.

It should be noted up front that there will be plenty of constants in the House of Representatives over the next two years. Republicans retained control, for one thing. Furthermore, a number of Members who faced spirited challenges in coastal districts were returned by voters. In California, for example, Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps has represented her Santa Barbara-centered coastal district since 2003, and prevailed despite being a top Republican target. In Florida, freshman Republican Congressman Steve Southerland was returned despite a spirited challenge that attracted the support of many in the ocean community. But in numerous other districts, the oath of office will be taken by someone new on January 3rd.

In New England, we’ve known for almost a year that generational change was certain — ever since veteran Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) announced his retirement. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this transition. Frank was a passionate advocate for fishermen in Massachusetts, most especially those from the Port of New Bedford, in his district. He routinely raised fisheries issues at the highest levels of the administration. Indeed, rumor has it that he made specific fisheries asks of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the midst of complex negotiations regarding Wall Street reform — over which he had enormous leverage as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Love Barney or not, it’s simply impossible to imagine anyone filling those shoes. New Bedford will now be represented by Congressman Bill Keating. Rep. Keating was elected to the House in 2011, and will add New Bedford to his representation of other Massachusetts fishermen — including those on the Cape.

Elsewhere in New England, there’s déjà vu for New Hampshire fishermen, with Carol Shea-Porter winning her rematch against Frank Guinta. Shea-Porter previously held the seat, from 2007-2011.

Down in Florida, there’s a similarly seismic House transition. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been a tireless advocate for those who fish out of the Florida Keys. Her seniority in the House majority, combined with her political acumen, made her a key congressional player. That may be maintained to some degree, with her continued tenure in the House assured. But redistricting means that she no longer represents The Keys; and incumbent Republican David Rivera, who was in line to take the mantle, was defeated by Democratic challenger Joe Garcia. As a freshman serving in the minority, Garcia will need to work hard to ensure his fishermen maintain their considerable influence on Capitol Hill.

There will be new faces from out west, too. One freshman who is likely to emerge as a prominent voice on fisheries is Congressman-elect Jared Huffman. Huffman’s new district spans the Northern California coast — an area he has represented in the State Assembly since 2006. Further north, in Washington state, powerful Democratic appropriator Norm Dicks is retiring — another ‘old bull’ departure that will change the tenor of Capitol Hill deal-making. He’s being succeeded by Derek Kilmer, a State Senator, whose new district will include Gig Harbor.

Finally, the new House will include a freshman from Hawaii. The second congressional district, which encompasses almost all of Hawaii with the exception of Honolulu, will be represented by Tulsi Gabbard, Gabbard racked up a whopping 89% of the vote on Tuesday, so holding her seat is unlikely to be at the top of her list of concerns. She previously served as Hawaii’s youngest-ever state legislator and is an Iraq War veteran.

Missing the election already?? Not to worry — there’s one more coastal House race yet to be decided. The important third congressional district of Louisiana is headed for a December 8th run-off between two incumbent Republicans: Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry. Louisiana’s shrimpers are likely to be watching closely, and so will we.

I’ll have more on the fascinating emerging dynamics of the 113th Congress soon. We know y’all will be waiting on the edge of your seats.

A status quo election? Not for fisheries

Since the moment polls started closing last night, DC types of all political persuasions have been wading obsessively through the Election Day returns. First and foremost, the angst was over whether preferred candidates had won. Beyond that, folks have been madly trying to read the tea leaves on how the political and public policy landscape has been altered. Confession time: I’ve been one of them.

In the coming days I’ll be sharing some of my conclusions with FishHQ readers who may be interested in what the election is likely to mean for fisheries. And a constant theme in those posts will be how significant the implications of this election have already been for the fisheries world — and how much is likely to change in its aftermath.

One popular refrain last night and this morning is that this was a status quo election, and at a superficial level that’s true: President Obama has won reelection; the Senate majority has been retained by the Democrats; and Republicans will continue to control the House. But to suggest a status quo outcome in any deeper sense would be, in my view, very wrong-headed. The reality is, when it comes to many of the most important dynamics that have shaped Washington over the last two years, this is another change election. And when it comes to fisheries specifically, a lot of key chess pieces are about to move.

I’ll be examining those changes in detail in subsequent posts. But here are some quick morning-after takeaways:

  • Although the occupant of the White House hasn’t changed, we’ll see very significant turnover in key executive branch personnel — including, in all likelihood, at the cabinet level (Commerce Secretary) and in agency leadership (NOAA Administrator).
  • Some of the most prominent and influential congressional voices on fisheries will be packing their bags after choosing to retire or suffering electoral defeat. Institutional knowledge on Capitol Hill is being lost, while opportunities to reshape the debate are being created.
  • The transformation of the New England congressional delegation to a one-party enclave is now largely complete. The triumph of Democrats over Republicans in critical House and Senate races will have significant implications for how fisheries politics plays out in this vital region.
  • With all sides focused on avoiding the fiscal cliff, and daunting federal budget realities looming, the resources that enable the information infrastructure upon which our fisheries management system relies are set to come under even greater pressure.

As you absorb the implications of last night’s results, we hope you’ll tune out the cable chatter from time to time, and instead tune in to FishHQ. We’ll strive to bring you the best insight and analysis on what it all means.