The 2014 mid-term elections are only one month away, and 87 percent of Americans surveyed disapprove of the job Congress is doing, regardless of their party affiliations. Sounds like wholesale changes are in store in the U.S. House and Senate. Not necessarily so. Although there will be a fairly sizable number of new faces following the elections, and possibly a change in control of the U.S. Senate, history shows that a vast majority of incumbents will survive their re-election campaigns. Political experts say although people may be dismayed with Congress as a whole, they often feel a more personal connection with their own congressman or senator. However, the new faces that do arrive, whether through retirements or incumbent defeats, create ripple effects in every new Congress, from changes in leadership, chairmanships or priorities. These ripples of congressional change affect everyone. Indian country, because of our government-to-government relationship, is often more susceptible to the effects of these changes. That is why it is so important that we are active in the election process and, regardless of the outcome, we are active in the post-election education process.
Indian country has learned through experience that we can influence the outcome of many races and play a role in the direction each new Congress takes but only if we participate. It is also important that we as Indian people remember that our issues are not partisan ones and that we have friends and champions on both sides of the aisle. We encourage our tribal members, do not blindly punch your ballot as a Democrat or Republican, but foremost as an American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian. Does my congressman or senator understand tribal sovereignty? Do they openly communicate with my tribal leaders? While we do not expect 100 percent agreement on all issues, does my elected official support my tribe on the core issues most important to us? If the seat in question is open, ask yourself which candidate campaigned in Indian country? Which candidate has a background supporting tribal issues? We need to protect our friends and cultivate new friends in every election cycle.
What will be the outcome of the November elections? I can tell you what trends the experts are predicting, but only your participation will determine the accuracy of these projections. Today, Republicans hold a significant advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives with 233 Republican seats, 199 Democrat seats, and three vacancies. Most political experts project Republican control to continue in the House with 230 likely Republican seats and 188 likely Democrat seats in November, but races for 17 seats are considered toss-ups.
Even without a change in leadership in the House, change will be a constant in that body because of the Republican system of limiting terms of their committee chairmen. The result will be a potential change of nine committee chairmen, or about half of the committees, potentially including: Agriculture, Armed Services, Budget, Education and Workforce, Oversight and Government Reform, Intelligence, Natural Resources, Small Business and Ways and Means. The committees with the most influence in gaming-related issues will likely see little change: Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will likely retain the gavel at Energy and Commerce, Financial Services will likely still be chaired by Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and the Judiciary gavel will still be held by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). One change will be at the Ways and Means Committee where the current chairman, Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is retiring, and his likely replacement will be either Kevin Brady (R-Texas) or Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
In the current U.S. Senate, Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage (including two Independents who caucus with Democrats). However, most experts currently feel change is headed to the Senate with projections of a 52-48, or 51-49 Republican takeover. I am told the reason for this is threefold: First, historically the sitting president loses popularity in the second term, and his party tends to lose seats in the mid-term. Also, in non-presidential election years Democrat turnout tends to lag, while Republican turnout tends to be strong. Thirdly, Democrats have more seats at stake—21 to Republicans’ 15—at a time where voter dissatisfaction is high. Whatever the reason, the pundits predict new leadership in the Senate. Nevertheless, there are still nine competitive races that can decide the outcome: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Georgia and Kentucky.
If Republicans take the Senate, all 19 committee chairmanships will change, but even if the Democrats retain control, four of their current committee chairmen are retiring: Senators Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), Carl Levin, (D-Mich.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), which will result in a great deal of musical chairs and changing chairmanships. Committees of importance to the industry will see changes regardless of who is in power. The Banking Committee might see Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) fill the void. The Commerce Committee might see Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) or John Thune (R-S.D.). Finance may continue to be chaired by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) or passed to Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) may keep the gavel or we may see Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) take it up. Of course all of these projections are seen as “likely” scenarios, but when the doors close in the caucus rooms and deals get cut, who knows what changes might be in the offing.
The outcome of the Senate elections will largely determine the direction of the lame duck session in November and December. More than 20 percent of all bills passed came during recent lame duck sessions, during which retiring and defeated lawmakers can vote their conscience on must-pass legislation that has piled up and everyone wants to go home for the holidays. Must-pass legislation will still be addressed as many tax provisions will be expiring and need to be extended, the spending bills that are ready to move will be tied up in an omnibus package and those not yet ready will need a continuing resolution. If the Democrats retain control of the Senate, we may see a spirited lame duck that includes many judicial confirmations and a variety of issues. Although it does not appear gaming issues will be included in that mix, NIGA will monitor the situation closely as it evolves. If the Republicans take the reins for the 114th, the 113th lame duck, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) will address a few must-pass bills and punt the rest for the GOP to deal with in 2015.
Even before the outcome of the November elections we are guaranteed to see a minimum of 45 new faces in the House as three Republicans lost primaries, seven Democrats and 11 Republicans are resigning to run for other offices and 10 Democrats and 14 Republicans are retiring. In the Senate, five Democrats and three Republicans are retiring. That is a total of at least 53 new faces.
What does it all mean? It means that change is a constant on Capitol Hill and NIGA member tribes cannot and will not throw up our hands in dismay, as so many Americans have, with a gridlocked Congress. Every two years is our opportunity to support our friends, elect new friends and educate all new members. While we salute our friends who leave office, we must be prepared to nurture new relationships and continually find new champions. Whether our candidates win or not, we must be prepared to start educating the newly elected on the principles of sovereignty, government-to-government relations and the issues of importance to Indian country. We must also extend that education to new chairmen and chairwomen as to the importance of our issues before them.