Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
Published: Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 – 12:06 am

In most states, being elected to Congress is a big political deal – a major step up the political ladder to higher office.

In California, it’s pretty much a political dead end.

While Barbara Boxer may have traded her congressional seat for one in the U.S. Senate, she’s a very rare exception.

It’s been more than 40 years since a previous California congressional member stepped up from the House to the Senate (John Tunney, 1970), and none has become governor.

The reason? Simple arithmetic.

Most states have, at most, a handful of congressional members; therefore, each represents a substantial chunk of a state’s population.

Arizona has a nine-member congressional delegation, for example, which is just about the national per-state average.

Nevada has just four in its delegation and Oregon five. Alaska has just one who represents the entire state.

However, California has by far the largest congressional delegation at 53 members, and that means each represents just 1.9 percent of the state’s residents.

That’s why, once elected, California’s congressional members generally stay put until they die or retire. Their only paths to power are within the House itself, with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco being examples.

Those who do not, or cannot, play the inside game are stuck, destined to become political asterisks – even those who enjoyed some attention in their pre-congressional careers.

Two examples are Democrat John Garamendi and Republican Tom McClintock, who represent districts on the periphery of Sacramento. Both, as it happens, are facing semi-tough re-election campaigns this year after five years in Congress.

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