Congressional activity has long been the centerpiece for constituent representation and public policy. However, the general public has long become jaded with the efforts by their legislators due to stratification of party politics and its influence on federal legislation. This poses the question of whether or not elected legislators are doing what is necessary to maintain the status quo within their localities. Is the reelection of a legislator reflective of their political clout or his or her ability to fully represent their constituency in Congress? Many would argue that political change or shifts in representation is more dependent on extreme debacles by incumbents and that historically, constituents will remain happy as long as the bare minimum is attained by the incumbent.
This paper will analyze congressional activity of a long time congresswomen, and link her policies and politics to federal issues and local needs. The information will demonstrate that in many cases, elected officials strongly consider constituent needs and desires over party politics, which does not fit the trend that party politics dominate the House of Representatives. This paper will also point out the stark differences between the Senate and House environments, and note that the local accountability for House representatives is of more significance to congressman than to senators. Ultimately the paper will serve to show the extent of influence that localities have upon public policy directives in contrast to senate and executive roles, and argue that the ‘lower’ house of Congress primarily reflects the concerns of constituents.
Congresswoman Lois Capps
Lois Capps has been the representative from the Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo, California for nearly ten years. Serving the 22nd and then the 23rd district after the death of her husband Walter Capps, she was elected to office via special election has maintained a majority from the locality for 3 more terms. Capps served as a nurse in the Santa Barbara School District for 20 years and has a Master’s Degree in Public Health Administration. Her personal platform has reflected the work of her husband, in addition to providing the locality with some well needed female representation in Congress. In the grand scheme of Congress, she holds very little power in terms of leadership roles, but stands on various powerful committees that directly impact local issues. These committees include the Natural Resources Committee, Budget Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee. In terms of state issues, these committees are important in many localities, due to the dwindling land conversation and state-wide energy disparities (Sourcewatch, 2007).
Until recently however, Capps has served in the minority party, and her voting record does not reflect a successful congressional incumbent. Out of 80 sponsored bills, Capps has only successfully passed a single bill. Her success lies within her co-sponsorship of numerous bi-partisan initiatives and has allowed her to move into greater spheres of influence in Washington, DC. Her areas of expertise range from public health, environmental conservation and women’s rights, all of which are important constituent issues in California and her locality. Additionally, Lois Capps pro-choice has helped in building a strong Planned Parenthood community in her locality and also reflects the interests of her constituents in general. This was one of the major deciding factors in her reelection in 2006 and serves to extend that her platform directly correlates to constituent needs and public policy.
Capps Campaign Financing and Special Interest Voting Record
It is apparent that legislators are influenced by a great deal of elements, including special interest groups and campaign funding. In many cases, legislators may sacrifice the public interest to appease campaign funding and special interest. This is more apparent for political officers whom wield a great deal of power in leadership and influence. According to Sourcewatch (2007), Lois Capps has provided nearly full disclosure on campaign financing and contributions. The data represents nearly an equal amount of contribution from special interest and individual donors, with a significant amount of funding coming from the business community. This information is interesting due to the fact that most liberal Democrats such as Capps receive a great deal more funding from labor (Open Secrets, 2007). This indicates that Capps is not only directly pro-Union and her platform directly affects her locality. Labor unions in her locality are not as significant due to the lack of industrial companies. This indicator supports the notion that Capps has no reason to pursue a strong pro-Labor campaign, where as some legislators champion labor because of direct campaign contributions or political agendas.
Generally, Capps’ voting record reflects a liberal democratic agenda with a small exception to some small business interest groups such as the Chamber of Commerce. Throughout the years, her voting record towards small business has begun to increase favorably and this may reflect a constituent need rather than a political shift (Vote Smart, 2007). Capps has increased her membership in a variety of fields since taking office, including the Bi-Partisan Women’s Caucus and co-chairing organizations that champion minority and women’s business rights.
Animal rights, abortion and environmental issues are also part of the Capps’ platform and also an area in which she has become stronger as of late. An example of this is when she was recently appointed to the Natural Resources Committee. While conservation and environmental protection may not be an imperative issue in some parts of California, her appointment to this committee is significant to the recent controversy surrounding the Santa Rosa Island. Congressman Jim Costa, a Republican from the 20th District recently passed a bill to close down Santa Rosa Island for five months for hunting purposes. This has been a serious issue in Capps’ locality and her appointment to the Natural Resources Committee in addition to the shift in leadership will help repeal the passage of the bill, as it raises a great deal of conservation issues.
Energy issues are also a major concern for Californians in the 23rd District as utility regulations have been detrimental in the distribution of electricity and gas, and have caused a great deal of concerns as a result of blackouts and lack of consistent energy sources. In the most recent congressional session, the House was able to pass a significant energy bill that would benefit states such as California by shifting money from oil company incentives to alternative energy research and utilization (Ferry, 2007). The energy issue has been problematic for California for well over a decade and the promotion of alternative energy in Capps’ localities through the California Alternative Energy Board demonstrates a direct link to constituent concerns. Subsequently, Capps notes that the Senate may potentially adjust the bill, but is positive that it will make a difference for localities such as Isla Vista most of the state of California.
Lois Capps has also demonstrated a more progressive approach to politics and public policy in her latter years in Congress. Her participation in the Blue Dog Coalition shows a shift to fiscally responsible public policy, rather than extreme government spending and increased tax cuts (Stevens, 2006). Her voting record with the Chamber of Commerce, which ranges from 20% to 50%, is also significantly high for a democrat labeled as liberal (Vote Smart, 2007). This seemingly reflects a need to become more fiscally conservative on both sides of the House, and rather than representing an extremity such as liberalism, Capps mirrors the needs of her community by participating in a variety of bi-partisan groups and activities. While she champions the conversation of the environment and holds the Bush Administration accountable for the Iraq War, she shows compromise and a middle ground that is not normally existent in partisan politics.
Ultimately, Lois Capps’ voting record is relatively poor in the grand scheme of legislative success. However, her growing influence in Congress and her strategic placement in committees show her desire to affect public policy in a way that will benefit her localities. Subsequently, her special interest voting record and campaign financing background reflect an equal amount of consideration for both independent contributors and special interest groups. This leads to the assumption that constituent needs and issues trump the significant contributions of a powerful interest group such as the AFL-CIO, and that she has not lost a vision of representing her locality to the best of her ability.
Sourcewatch. Lois Capps. Accessed February 22, 2007. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Lois_Capps
Open Secrets. Lois Capps. Accessed February 22, 2007.
Vote Smart. Lois Capps. Accessed February 22, 2007.
Ferry, David. “Capps looks to Future for Dems”. Daily Nexus. January 22, 2007. http://www.dailynexus.com/article.php?a=12910.
Stevens, Allison. “Progressive Women Outnumber Bluedog Dems”. Tribe. November 21, 2006. http://feministactivists.tribe.net/thread/0cef3b04-baa2-4d5a-963a-f01c0bdc100a.