George Miller's Retirement a Reminder of California Dominance
The retirement of veteran congressman George Miller, a close confidant of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is a reminder of the years when the California delegation used to dominate the House of Representatives.
Miller, who has represented San Francisco's Bay Area for 40 years, has been called Pelosi's consigliore and is one of the most influential Democrats in the House.
Still, even with 53 members including the House Democratic leader, the Majority whip and three committee chairmen, the Golden State delegation doesn't wield the power it did two or three decades ago.
Originally, Miller was a protégé of San Francisco Congressman Phillip Burton, a Lyndon-Johnson-like left-wing lawmaker famed for cutting deals and rolling up legislative achievements. Burton came within one vote of being Majority Leader but still retained enormous power until his death in 1983. He was succeeded in Congress by his wife for several years; she was then succeeded by Nancy Pelosi. In the 1980s and 90s, the California delegation included such heavyweights as Leon Panetta, who later served at the highest levels in two Democratic presidential administrations; Norman Mineta, who served as Secretary of Transportation in the George W. Bush administration; and Henry Waxman as well as Miller. Only Waxman will remain in Congress after Miller's retirement.
The Californians not only were strategically situated in all the important committees but worked collaboratively on issues of importance to their state. This stood in contrast to the era's large New York delegation, which was often marked by tensions and rivalries even with members of the same party.
Today, the even-larger California delegation doesn't act as cohesively, in part because of partisan friction within the House; and while Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, of Bakersfield, is politically influential, the other Republican committee chairmen aren't considered legislative heavyweights.
Miller has been a major force in education legislation, including working with now-Speaker John Boehner and the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the initial legislation for No Child Left Behind. The 68-year-old legislator also has been influential in energy and environmental legislation.
(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)