The House Democratic caucus passed over the most senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, for ranking Democrat on the powerful panel Tuesday.
It was a rare electoral setback for Miss Kaptur, but one that was not a surprise, considering her frosty relationship with Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York outpolled Miss Kaptur 36-10 in a closed-door meeting of the Democratic caucus’ Policy and Steering Committee.
Miss Kaptur issued a statement pointing to the political power of “the coasts” as opposed to the interior of the country.
“We ran as strong a race as we could, and our message was well-received, but the numbers just aren’t there, especially with the strength of the delegations on the coasts. I congratulate Congresswoman Lowey on her victory, and I look forward to working together with her for the sake of the nation,” Miss Kaptur said. “She and I will present a united front on the all-important issue of helping create jobs for the middle class and those who are striving to get into it.”
Miss Kaptur, who will be starting her 16th term in Congress, is the most senior Democrat on the committee, a point she made often during her run for re-election this year.
But that fact turned out not to be the determining factor for the Democratic caucus in selecting its committee chairmen and ranking members for the next Congress.
Miss Kaptur retains her position as the No. 2 ranking Democrat on the committee, which decides how to spend federal funds, a role that in recent years has made her the top breadwinner of federal funds in Ohio.
Some said Ms. Lowey was perceived to be supported by Ms. Pelosi even though Ms. Pelosi assured Miss Kaptur last week that she was neutral in the leadership contest.
Among other things, Ms. Lowey told fellow Democrats that she would be a more aggressive advocate for abortion rights than Miss Kaptur, who said she supports Roe vs. Wade but was one of a group of Democrats who forced President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions under the Affordable Care Act.
A spokesman for Ms. Lowey did not return an email seeking comment. Last week, Lowey spokesman Matt Dennis said it was not a one-issue contest but about which candidate has the record, experience, and strength to represent Democrats most effectively on a wide variety of federal issues.
Ms. Lowey’s district includes the upscale northern suburbs of New York City, including most of Westchester County. Miss Kaptur’s district hugs Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland.
Miss Kaptur, 65, and Ms. Lowey, 75, both spoke behind closed doors to the Democratic caucus’ Policy and Steering Committee.
The final decision rests with the entire House Democratic caucus, who make up a minority with 201 members to 234 Republicans. Miss Kaptur said she and Ms. Lowey had agreed to not contest the vote of the policy and steering committee.
Ms. Lowey succeeds U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D., Wash.), who is retiring when his term ends.
Ms. Lowey has more of a reputation of being a team player in the Democratic caucus. In the past she has chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, while Miss Kaptur has said she is uncomfortable with the fund-raising side of leadership.
The appropriations ranking position was Miss Kaptur’s best chance at a leadership position since she has been in Congress.
In the past, Miss Kaptur was in line to become chairman of the agriculture subcommittee on appropriations and the veterans administration/housing and urban development subcommittee.
But former Republican leader Tom Delay (R., Texas) abolished the veterans administration/housing and urban development subcommittee, and Miss Kaptur moved to a lower-ranking position on the subcommittee on defense appropriations.
“That single authoritarian move by Mr. DeLay cost me 16 years of seniority on the VA-HUD subcommittee, where I was second-ranking and on my way to being chair,” Miss Kaptur said in a 2007 letter to The Blade.
Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman from Catawba Island Township, issued a statement saying, “Regardless of her position in Congress, Representative Kaptur has always been committed first and foremost to serving her district, and as a 16-term veteran of the House boasting an unparalleled record of effectiveness and seniority, she will continue to find new ways to champion Ohio this term.”
Whether there is a consolation prize for Miss Kaptur remains to be seen when the 113th Congress is sworn in in January, Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought said.
Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said Miss Kaptur’s defeat shows that the Democratic Party is dominated by the coasts and is intolerant of a moderate position on abortion rights.
“It’s a loss of influence for Ohio, and once again we see the liberal Democrats on the coasts are the ones that are the big winners,” Mr. Bennett said. He said Miss Kaptur “has never marched to the beat of the leadership; she’s always done what was best for her constituents.”
Jon Stainbrook, Lucas County Republican Party chairman, noted that Miss Kaptur ran against Ms. Pelosi, albeit briefly, in 2002, and in 2010 questioned publicly whether Ms. Pelosi should stay on as Democratic leader of the House after the party’s defeat in the midterm elections that year.
“Kaptur ran against Pelosi for leader. That’s why she didn’t get it,” Mr. Stainbrook said. He said having a Toledoan at the helm of the appropriations committee would have been a feather in northwest Ohio’s cap, even if she is from the opposing political party. “The voters are the ones that lost out,” he said.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.