113th Congress: This Time, It’s Out With the New
Published: December 9, 2012
WASHINGTON — As a fund-raiser for a local college scholarship program, Rick Nolan understands how much it costs to send children in northern Minnesota to technical school. Having run a sawmill, he can speak like a logger.
Charles Dharapak/Associated Press
“I know what you can get for 1,000 board feet of lumber,” he said recently. “I know what you have to pay for stumpage.”
But there is another piece of Mr. Nolan’s biography that until recently few voters wanted to hear about, and that few politicians would dare own up to: the three terms he spent in Congress 30 years ago.
In fact, his success in Washington became one of his most marketable traits when he decided to make another run for office this year. “It’s time to get something done,” Mr. Nolan declared in one of his ads.
He beat his opponent, a former airline pilot who was elected in the Tea Party upheaval of 2010, by nine points. And when he takes his seat as one of 84 new members of the House of Representatives (49 of them Democrats, 35 Republicans) in January, Mr. Nolan, Democrat of Minnesota, will be one of the many who were elected despite their histories in politics and government.
The 2010 election, with its throw-the-bums-out, antigovernment furor, swept into office a host of people who had no government experience. There was an exterminator, a dentist, a youth minister and a pizza man. But this year, voters sent many of those people packing.
In their place will be a class of career bureaucrats and policy wonks who, after two years of intransigence and dysfunction on Capitol Hill, make up what could be characterized as the anti-antigovernment wave.
These members, many of whom ran on a promise to break the seemingly endless impasse in Washington, will face their first test early. The new Congress will almost certainly inherit complicated tasks like raising the nation’s borrowing limit, revamping the tax code and making adjustments to social welfare programs — issues that are not expected to be entirely resolved as part of the negotiations to head off the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 1.
The new House will include nine people, like Mr. Nolan, who have already been in Congress. It will also include a former Congressional chief of staff, a decade-long member of a local water board, an assistant secretary for veterans affairs and even a Kennedy.
In some cases, voters opted for nonpoliticians, albeit ones who sold themselves as more capable of handling the country’s problems.
In Florida, voters rejected Representative Allen B. West, a retired Army colonel who became one of the most visible faces of the Tea Party movement. His replacement, Patrick Murphy, is a former accountant for Deloitte & Touche.
“The substance, I think, prevailed over the rhetoric,” Mr. Murphy said. “Having a financial and accounting background, I know how to look for waste, inefficiencies and fraud.”
The makeup of Congress has not been this volatile in 20 years, a result of shifting political tides and redistricting. The number of House seats that changed hands in 2010 and this year — 96 and 84, respectively — is the highest since the early 1990s, a period of turnover not seen in nearly half a century.
First came the 1992 election, when district lines redrawn after the 1990 Census and a House scandal led to a class of 110 new members. In 1994, two years into President Bill Clinton’s first term, Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party seized control of the House, wresting it from Democrats for the first time since the 1950s. In that Congress, there were 86 freshmen.
But now, two years after voters shook up the Capitol, many of them seem to have cooled on the notion that a new group of citizen legislators can fix the country’s ills. And for aspiring politicians waiting in the wings — many of them given an advantage because of favorable redistricting — this year presented a rare opportunity.