Kevin McCarthy

As House speaker, Kevin McCarthy would need to be cautious when using his clout to help California, an expert says. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

By Michael Doyle
October 1, 2015

  • Bakersfield native poised to become second Californian in top House post
  • Bringing home the bacon made harder by earmark ban
  • Some California clout can be exercised quietly, behind the scenes

WASHINGTON — Bakersfield, Calif., native Kevin McCarthy will get a better salary, a bigger staff and a lot more clout on his state’s behalf when he becomes House speaker, as all in Congress now expect.

But the old days of bringing home the bacon are now gone, or have at least been put on a diet.

A congressional earmark ban will limit McCarthy’s ability to steer federal dollars toward his San Joaquin Valley congressional district, which encompasses most of Kern and Tulare counties. Republican divisions render all but impossible passage of an immigration bill sought by valley farmers and immigrants. Special-interest legislation faces stricter scrutiny.

“It goes without saying others will look favorably on trying to promote policies that make the speaker happy,” said John Lawrence, former chief of staff to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when she served as speaker of the House of Representatives from 2007-2011. She is now House minority leader.

“But how much of that he can do without earmarks and with budget restrictions,” Lawrence said, “I have my doubts.”

Now a visiting faculty member at the University of California Washington Center, Lawrence added in an email interview that McCarthy “needs to be careful he doesn’t appear to his colleagues like he is skimming off the cream for the home state, which would not be well received.”

McCarthy would be able to influence legislation to benefit California but runs a serious risk of looking like he is circumventing restrictions he supported on securing benefits for your constituents. John Lawrence, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

McCarthy’s political mentor, former Rep. Bill Thomas of Bakersfield, for instance, alienated some fellow lawmakers in 2005 when he used his clout to secure $700 million worth of local projects in a pork-filled transportation bill. In 2011, the House eliminated earmarks.

Even the unprecedented development that McCarthy’s ascension will put Californians in the House’s top two party positions is less than it seems for the Golden State. McCarthy and Pelosi seem to barely know each other. Legislatively, the only things they share are California’s equivalent of mom and apple pie, like love for the wine industry.

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