Shifting demographics have countless repercussions. Today, one of those is the loss of a pro-transit voice in Congress.
As the Midwest and Northeast lose population, redistricting is claiming some of their members of Congress, with the South and West picking up those seats. Last night, Rep. Russ Carnahan became a casualty of Missouri’s population loss and redistricting.
Carnahan was a leader in the Congressional fight to extend spending flexibility to transit agencies in financial trouble. He introduced a measure to allow those agencies to use federal funds, normally earmarked for capital projects, to pay bus drivers and other operational costs. That measure garnered 167 co-sponsors and was included in the Senate version of the transportation bill. It was later eliminated in the sausage-making in conference.
Carnahan becomes the ninth member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who won’t show up for work again come January. Despite his support for transit, Carnahan was the only one of them who didn’t serve on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. Of the nine departing members, seven are Democrats.
Sustainable transportation advocates say they’ll also miss Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL), a thoughtful, moderate Republican who’s retiring after this year. Johnson bucked his party leadership several times during the H.R. 7 markup. He supported dedicated bike/ped funding and co-sponsored Carnahan’s transit operations bill.
The only other departing Republican T&I member, Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, had a less impressive voting record. She supported H.R. 7, the bill that was so extreme it couldn’t even pass the House, including provisions to bypass important environmental reviews. She was defeated in her party’s primary by a more conservative candidate.
Pennsylvania Democrats Jason Altmire and Tim Holden also lost their primary elections, and Democratic Reps. Jerry Costello (IL) and Heath Shuler (NC) are retiring.
Two other T&I Dems are on to bigger and brighter things. Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) gave up his House seat, which he’s held for 20 years, to run for mayor of San Diego — a tight race he’s currently favored to win. His platform includes a plan to make the city more walkable and bikeable. He supports Amtrak and high-speed rail funding. Meanwhile, Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, a Complete Streets supporter and Bike Caucus member, looks like she’ll easily win the Senate race she’s running in. She’s been a major supporter of rail and bus transit in her state.
With seven of their 26 T&I members leaving Congress, the Democrats will have many slots to fill. Just how many will depend on how the balance of power between the two parties shakes out in the coming election. Each party is represented in committees in proportion to their seats in Congress. Right now, there are 43 more Republicans than Democrats in the House and seven more R’s than D’s on the Transportation Committee.