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Election could shift power in state’s congressional delegation

If Republicans win control of the House in the Nov. 2 election, California’s congressional delegation will undergo a dramatic transfer of power, as Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Beverly Hills give way to a team of Republicans who could take over at least five committees.

Although Democrats are certain to remain in the majority of the state’s delegation, California Republicans hold enough seniority within their party to wield the chairmanship gavels of more committees than any other state:

•Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, in line to chair the top investigative committee, could become the Obama administration’s chief congressional antagonist.

•Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, the senior California House Republican, could return as Appropriations Committee chairman, tasked with carrying out his party’s pledge to rein in spending, even as his home state looks to Washington for more money.

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•Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of Santa Clarita is positioned to take control of the Armed Services Committee, setting up a possible confrontation with the White House it if sticks to its plan to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan in July. He also would take over the panel at a time when budget cuts loom over the state’s defense industry.

•Rep. David Dreier of San Dimas is likely to return as chairman of the Rules Committee, which sets the procedures for considering House bills. And Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River, if he wins his tough reelection campaign, could chair the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the day-to-day operations of the House.

Republicans feel so good about their prospects that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) is working behind the scenes to win the Science and Technology Committee gavel. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who provided more than $1 million of his own campaign funds to help elect Republicans, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

And Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), in only his second term, is expected to move up in party leadership, perhaps to the third-ranking position of whip, responsible for counting votes and maintaining party discipline on important floor decisions. It would be a reward for the telegenic 45-year-old chief recruiter of Republican candidates who has traveled the country from Lake Oswego, Ore., to Frog Jump, Tenn., working to deliver a GOP majority.

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California’s potential clout in a Republican-controlled House is striking given the blue tinge of the state, which still views President Obama more favorably than most other places, though six California Republicans chaired major committees before the Democrats won control of the House in 2006.

Democrats say they believe their party will hold onto the majority after Nov. 2, but are using the “what if” prospect of a Republican takeover in the campaign.

“Every time I try to encourage the White House to do more to help us elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, I send them a picture of Darrell Issa with the word ‘subpoena’ underneath,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D- Sherman Oaks), in reference to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s power to drag administration officials before the bright TV lights of investigative hearings.

Democrats question how strongly California Republicans will look out for the state’s interests while shaping their party’s national agenda.

“When the Republican governor of California came to Congress with his hand out, saying, ‘I need your help,’ they all said, ‘no,’ ” said Daniel Weiss, chief of staff for Rep. George Miller of Martinez, one of five California Democrats who chair House committees.

All of the California Republicans present last summer opposed a $26-billion aid package for cash-strapped states, including $1.2 billion sought by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, attacking it as another expensive federal bailout.

“We will not be a prosperous state if our country has policies that are bringing us a trillion and a half dollars more in debt each year,” Rohrabacher said.

“Chasing after nonexistent federal dollars is hardly our priority,” added Dreier, chairman of the California Republican delegation. “Our goal is to implement fiscally responsible pro-growth economic policies so that we can get Californians working.”

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Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, said California Republicans would be “positioned to play key roles in addressing the failed efforts of this Congress and administration to lower unemployment — many California congressional Democrats don’t even seem to acknowledge that this administration’s job policies aren’t working as advertised.”

California Republicans could face resistance within their own party over aiding a blue state and the longtime mind-set among many lawmakers who would rather have federal resources go “anywhere but California.”

Among the biggest changes in a GOP power transfer would be Issa taking over as chairman of the oversight committee, which over the years has investigated subjects including steroid use in sports, and waste, fraud and abuse in government contracts.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog Project on Government Oversight, expects Issa to be “oftentimes partisan.”

But, she said, so was Waxman, an investigative pit bull while leading the panel, investigating such things as whether the George W. Bush administration sought to muzzle climate scientists in order to downplay the dangers of global warming and the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to deny California permission to implement its global warming law.

“We think it could be interesting having him as chairman of the committee,” Brian said.

But interesting isn’t a word Democrats use.

“So far, he’s given a lot of indications that he’s looking forward to using the position for partisan purposes,” Waxman said.

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There is speculation that some longtime California Democrats may retire rather than try to adjust to life with less power. But if Republicans win the majority by only a few seats, those Democrats might stay on in hopes of regaining the majority in 2012.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is among those eager for a Republican takeover of the House. “Most importantly, it will put people in charge who are not from San Francisco or Hollywood,” he said.

richard.simon@latimes.com


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