Fresh faces-- Five of state's House delegation new

By Mike Householder

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A third of Michigan's congressional delegation in 2011 is new, though lawmakers from the state still will wield considerable clout in Washington in the new year.

The Republican domination in November means two of the state's U.S. House members -- Democrats John Conyers (Judiciary) and Sander Levin (Ways and Means) are losing their committee chairmanships.

But four others from the state are stepping into new leadership roles in the next Congress.

Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Lansing is the incoming chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Fred Upton, a Republican from St. Joseph, is taking over as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Howell Republican Mike Rogers will chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and Republican Dave Camp of Midland is replacing Levin as head of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Levin will be the tax-writing committee's ranking Democrat, and his younger brother, Carl Levin, is expected to retain his chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services panel.

All in all, not bad for a state with five new members heading to Washington, despite losing 69 years worth of congressional experience from outgoing members Democrats Bart Stupak, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and Mark Schauer, and Republicans Pete Hoekstra and Vernon Ehlers.

First-time congressmen are taking over four of those seats and the fifth is returning to Washington after being ousted two years ago.

Stupak's replacement in northern Michigan's 1st District is Republican Dan Benishek, a tea party-backed political newcomer who is calling for deep cuts in government spending. The surgeon from Crystal Falls also has vowed not to seek any funding earmarks for projects back home, which would be a marked change from Stupak's way of doing things.

In the 7th District, Tim Walberg, a Republican from Tipton, served a single term in Congress before being ousted by Schauer in 2008. Walberg, a former pastor, returned the favor in November, preaching his limited-government message across the seven-county, south-central Michigan district to great effect and booting the Democrat from office after one of the costliest and hardest-fought campaigns in the state.

Constituents in the western part of the state shouldn't see much of an ideological shift in their new congressmen.

Former Hoekstra staffer Bill Huizenga of Zeeland takes over the 2nd District seat his old boss left behind to run for governor, while another fellow Republican, state Rep. Justin Amash of the Grand Rapids area, succeeds Ehlers in the 3rd.

The lone new Democrat entering Congress from Michigan is Hansen Clarke, a state senator and ex-Conyers staffer who beat Kilpatrick in the primary. Clarke, who has a painting degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Georgetown, campaigned in soup kitchens and homeless shelters and pledged to fight for the downtrodden in his hometown of Detroit and the handful of other southeastern Michigan communities he'll represent.

The Michigan House delegation, which leaned 8-7 Democratic during the last term, now consists of nine Republicans and six Democrats, and two of those Democrats could face each other in 2012 because of reapportionment. The state -- the only in the nation to lose population in the 2010 census count -- is losing a seat in Congress.

In recent years, the state's representatives in Washington found common ground in helping the domestic auto industry through its financial struggles. While the delegation likely will split on any attempt to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, they are expected to band together to push for more federal dollars for the Great Lakes. Obama has vowed to provide $5 billion over 10 years to fund a comprehensive Great Lakes restoration, and Michigan lawmakers are lobbying for even more.

Republicans and Democrats alike in the state also are fully on board in the fight against the Asian carp, which is threatening to enter the Great Lakes at a potentially great cost to the region's fishing industry.

GOP Rep. Candice Miller from Macomb County's Harrison Township has said "there is nothing more pressing than stopping this aggressive invasive species from entering Lake Michigan."

Regardless of what issues arise in the next two years that require their attention, it's more than likely at least one of the state's surrogates in D.C. will be in the middle of addressing them.

"Michigan members are in a position to leave their mark on the important business of the 112th Congress," said David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University.

Published: Tue, Jan 4, 2011