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January 23, 2012

The Changing Status of Jewish Elected Officials in Washington: Unpacking its Significance

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Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

Yesterday’s announcement by Representative Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz. 8th District) that she intends to step down from her Congressional seat, is part of an emerging story involving a number of the current Jewish members of the House and Senate, who are leaving government service or changing positions.

The make-up of this current Congress includes some 40 Jewish members of the House and Senate. However, this year will mark the largest drop off in Jewish representation in more than a half a century.

House of Representatives:

  1. Departure of Representative Jane Harmon (Ca. 36th District) in order to serve as President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center
  2. Resignation of Congressman Anthony Wiener (NY, 9th District)
  3. Decision of Representative Robert Filner (Ca. 51st District) to run for Mayor of San Diego
  4. Retirement of Congressman Barney Frank (Mass. 4th District) at the end of this current session
  5. Decision of Congresswoman Shelly Berkley (Nev. 1st District ) to step down in order to run for the Senate

In what will be one of the costliest House elections in history, two prominent members of the 112th Congress, Representative Howard Berman (Ca. 28th District ) and Brad Sherman (Ca. 27th District) will be competing for the Democratic nomination in the newly created 30th Congressional District in the San Fernando Valley.

Of some historical significance, Representative Eric Cantor (Va.7th District), the only Jewish Republican currently in the House of Representatives, is the first Jewish official ever elected to serve as the House Majority Leader.

Senate:

When the 112th Congress concludes later this year, it will be marked by the retirement of two Senators Joseph Lieberman (Con. Ind.) and Herb Kohl (Dem. Wis).

In addition, several Jewish Senators facing re-election this fall are likely to encounter significant challenges. Benjamin Cardin (Maryland, Dem) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont, Ind.) appear to have major campaign battles ahead, while Diane Feinstein (Ca. Dem) may face a less formidable challenge in seeking to retain her seat. There is also the possibility of several Jewish challengers emerging in Senate races this fall. In addition to the candidacy of Congresswoman Berkley, Ohio State Treasurer, Josh Mandel, may enter the Ohio Senate contest.

During this current session of the Congress there are 12 seating Jewish United States Senators:

In addition to Cardin, Feinstein, Kohl, Lieberman, and Sanders, Jewish members include:

  1. Richard Blumenthal (Con. Dem)
  2. Barbara Boxer (Ca. Dem)
  3. Al Franken (MN. Dem)
  4. Carl Levin (MI. Dem)
  5. Charles Schumer (NY Dem)
  6. Frank Lautenberg (NJ. Dem)
  7. Ron Wyden (Ore. Dem)

Commentary:
Are we likely to see a diminution of Jewish influence as we move forward, or will there be the emergence of a new generation of Jewish activists who will seek to make their presence felt on the national political stage?

Steven F. Windmueller, Ph.D.
Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor
HUC-JIR
Los Angeles Campus
213-765-2190
www.thewindreport.com

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