Western states flex various Congressional muscles


Keep in mind the famous line: "There are three kinds of lies -- lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Roll Call, a 54-year-old Washington, D.C. insider magazine, has announced its latest ranking of the political clout of each state's Congressional delegation. The Western states are ranked:

California has the most influential delegation of all the states, because (1) it has the most people, thus the most total members in the House and Senate, and (2) many of them are Democrats, the party in power, and (3) they hold key positions (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and many committee chairs).

Idaho ranks at the bottom, because its population means only a few Congressional members, most of whom are Republicans, including two freshmen who'll have to work their way up the hierarchies.

It's interesting to see how clouts have shifted over time, as some incumbents (such as Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith) have been replaced by less powerful relative newcomers.

The "lies" angle comes in when I look at Nevada's ranking ...

According to Roll Call, Nevada ranks low for clout, even though Nev. Sen. Harry Reid runs the Senate.

… Say what? Ask the environmentalists who've tried to push mining reform past Reid -- the mining state's senator -- whether he has power and you get a very different take. 

Good that Roll Call explains its statistical methods with tongue in cheek:

As we try to describe our secret sauce, we're reminded of the scene from the Marx Brothers' movie "Duck Soup," when Groucho, as Rufus T. Firefly, leader of Freedonia, is asked if he finds a certain policy clear.
"Clear?" Groucho replies. "Ha! Why, a 4-year-old child could understand this. Run out and find me a 4-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it."
So as we attempt to explain it here, be sure to have a 4-year-old close by.

Roll Call gives points for stuff like size of the delegation, leadership posts, influential committees, number of members in the majority party, per capita federal spending received in each state, and seniority.

Low-ranking states in that calculation might not be such wimps, though. They look much better in a different calculation -- the amount of power each member of Congress exercises as an individual:

In the individuals' table, we see the senators and representatives from the West's relatively rural states working their tails off. And each member of California's massive delegation doesn't have to work so hard.

PS -- The line about lies and statistics was spread by humorist Mark Twain in 1907; he said he was quoting a British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli. There's some dispute over who actually coined the phrase. As I recall, I discovered it in the classic 1954 book, How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff, which is considered the all-time best-selling statistics textbook, even though it debunks many interpretations of statistics.

About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.