WASHINGTON – When House Democrats meet Wednesday for a secret vote to choose the next minority whip, it could make Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, the second-most powerful Democrat in the House and put him one step closer to speaker.
But for Maryland, a Hoyer win could mean little more than just bragging rights.
“It means a heck of a lot more inside the Beltway than outside the Beltway,” said Frank Defilippo, a political analyst for the Baltimore Business Journal and WBAL radio.
The only way Maryland would significantly benefit from a Hoyer win is if the Democrats take over the House in the 2002 elections. Then the Democrats, led by Hoyer, would have control of the House purse strings, said James Gimpel, a University of Maryland government professor.
In the Democratic hierarchy, the minority whip ranks just below the minority leader, now Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. The job came open when the current whip, Rep. David Bonior announced that he would step down in January to dedicate more time to his bid for governor of Michigan.
Hoyer, who lost to Bonior 10 years ago, has been campaigning for months against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a Baltimore native who now represents the San Francisco area. Pelosi is being given the edge, but most observers say it is still too close to call.
The minority whip helps raise money for the Democratic Party and encourages party members to vote together on issues.
As whip, Hoyer might enjoy greater visibility within the House, thus gaining influence, Gimpel said, but he will not necessarily be able to turn that into more pork, or spending, projects for Maryland.
“The whip is more of a national office than a state office,” said Eric Uslaner, a University of Maryland professor who agreed with Gimpel. “There’s no evidence, for example, that . . . Bonior has brought a whole lot of benefits to Michigan.”
But there are advantages to the whip position, even for the minority party, said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, who is managing Hoyer’s campaign. By occupying a central leadership position, Hoyer would be one of the first to learn about new policies in the works, as well as the effects on Maryland.
“If you’re in the center of the operation, it gives you more opportunities,” Cardin said.
And should the Democrats regain control of the House, Gephardt would likely become speaker, with Hoyer next in line.
“The whip is the stepping stone to the speaker, and the higher up you are in the House, the more you can do for your district,” said Blair Lee, a political columnist for the Montgomery Journal.
Few saw repercussions should Hoyer lose, either for him or the state.
Should Pelosi win, her Baltimore background would mean she is just as likely to keep Maryland’s best interests in mind, Defilippo said.
“She’s not going to kick Maryland because her roots are here,” he said.
Hoyer would retain his effectiveness in the House even if he loses this election, Uslaner said.
“If he loses, he basically stays as he is, a very influential member of the House of Representatives,” he said.