Update: Ed Markey won the Massachusetts Senate seat easily on Tuesday, meaning that House Democrats will soon decide on his replacement as ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Also, Grijalva's staff took pains to note on Tuesday that among the signatories on an environmentalist letter backing his effort were a former Oregon congressman, Jim Weaver, and three former Oregon county commissioners. He's campaigning hard for this one. It's also worth noting that Morris Udall, back in the day, fought hard to overturn Congress' seniority system.
Here's what Udall.gov said about that effort of his, which led to the weakening although not elimination of the seniority system. Udall.gov is run by the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, a non-profit group created by Congress to honor the Udalls' legacy.
From the first Mo was a vocal critic of the House seniority system, a process, he wrote, "that rewarded longevity, not merit." He was impatient with the "to get along, go along" mentality and the antiquated machinery of Congress, complaining "it's just as hard to repeal bad old laws as it is to pass good new ones." In 1969, with a scant seven and half years' experience, Mo unsuccessfully challenged Speaker John W. McCormack for the speakership (the first Congressman of the 20th century to challenge a sitting Speaker). It was a bold move that cost him, in the short run, political allies, but one of which colleague David Obey (D-WI) said later that it "gave heart to an entire generation" of younger congressmen and broke the back of the seniority system. A year later he ran for majority leader and lost again. In a self-mocking gesture, he turned his "MO" button upside down to read "OW."
Now, back to Grijalva's current effort to reach the top Democratic slot on the Natural Resources Committee.
Could Rep. Raul Grijalva someday become Tucson's next Mo Udall?
There will never be another Morris K. Udall, of course, not someone like him who symbolized wit, civility and smarts on Capitol Hill for more than 30 years. Not someone who was the first congressman to publicly oppose the Vietnam War and one of the first on the Hill to push for the environment.
But Grijalva is now making an effort to land a top-ranking seat on a House committee that could someday put him in the same post that Udall held for many years.
An article on the environmental wire service E&E News today said that Grijalva is campaigning against a liberal Oregon Democratic congressman, Peter DeFazio, to become the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee in the event a vacancy opens up on the top spot.
Such a vacancy is expected to occur very shortly, say, tomorrow. The current ranking Democrat, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, is an odds-on favorite to win today's special election in the state to replace former Sen. John Kerry, who became Secretary of State earlier this year.
A host of smaller, grassroots environmental and Hispanic groups, including Tucson's Center for Biological Diversity, have pushed for Grijalva to get the position. The big boys such as the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife have stayed out of the contest. The League of United Latin American Citizens has also pushed for Grijalva.
The late Morris Udall was chair of the House Interior Committee -- predecessor of the Natural Resources Committee -- from the middle 1970s until his forced retirement due to illness in 1991. In that time, throughout which Democrats controlled the House, Udall pushed through plenty of landmark environmental bills, not least of which was one setting aside mucho land in Alaska as wilderness. He also brought home the bacon here, in the form of milllions upon millions in federal appropriations for the Central Arizona Project, now Tucson's main drinking water source.
if Grijalva won this post-election committee ranking fight -- assuming the fight does indeed occur- he still would be second banana on a Republican-chaired committee in a Republican Congress. But if Democrats retook Congress while he was still there, Grijalva would become chairman, giving the Tucson area two chairmen of this all-important House committee over a 30 to 40 year period.
The E&E story is behind a pay wall, but here's an excerpt:
"A large coalition of regional and local environmental groups is pushing for Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona to take over the top Democratic post on the House Natural Resources Committee, as lawmakers eye the leadership position that could open after today's special election in Massachusetts.
"Groups are picking sides as Grijalva and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) both vie for the panel slot. Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts is the current ranking Democrat but is expected to succeed today in his quest for the Massachusetts Senate seat, which opened when Democrat John Kerry left to become secretary of State.
"The special election has set off a scramble between Grijalva and DeFazio to lock up support, particularly on the House Steering and Policy Committee that picks leadership posts.
"DeFazio has the advantage of seniority, but Grijalva has picked up key endorsements in the past week. Two prominent Hispanic groups told House members last week that they oppose DeFazio because of past votes on immigration. They instead supported Grijalva (Greenwire, June 20). The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also endorsed Grijalva.
"Another 187 groups -- many of them smaller, local groups -- backed Grijalva yesterday in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Signatories include religious leaders; Hispanic, women's and tribal groups; and dozens of environmental groups.
"Grijalva has been a favorite of environmentalists for his outspoken defense of their issues, but large, national environmental groups have not taken sides in the potential ranking member battle.
"The green groups that signed onto yesterday's letter are mostly smaller national outfits or represent regional and local interests. They include the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Day Network, Blue Ocean Institute, Grand Canyon Trust, Gulf Restoration Network, Oregonians for Black Mesa, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Wildlife Alliance of Maine and several local Audubon chapters, like the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society."
Before Tucsonans start getting their hopes -- or fears, as the case may be -- up about Grijalva's potential ascendancy to this post, it should be noted that DeFazio has far more seniority on the committee than does Grijalva. he's the second most senior Democrat there behind Markey.
According to the E&E story, all five Democrats on the committee who have less seniority than DeFazio and more than Grijalva endorse DeFazio. So do two former House Interior/Natural Resource Committee chairs: George Miller of California and Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Seniority, which used to be the leading factor in picking congressional committee chairs, is still a big factor although not dominant as it was 20 or 30 years ago.
Here is an earlier article about the Grijalva-DeFazio contest from the D.C.-based news service Roll Call. It says that LULAC and another Latino group are supporting Grijalva in part due to their objections to a DeFazio vote years back on an immigration bill that wasn't to these groups' liking. DeFazio has defended his record on immigration legislation in general.
Here's yet another story on this dispute on another Capitol Hill news service known as the Hill, raising essentially the same issues.
But hey, if the Republican in Massachusetts pulls an upset today, this talk may be irrelevant, so we'll stop here.