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Congressional Jew-Count Plummeting

Jews in the House are leaving in droves

Dan Klein
May 02, 2012

Enjoy the summer lull, because soon the sprint to Simchat Democracy will begin. Though the election is six months away, we can call the results now: the next Congress will have fewer Jewish members than the last. The number of Members of the Tribe on the Hill has been topsy-turvy the last few years. Nine members joined in 2006 and 2008 to reach a record high of 45, but eight left only two years later—four of the classes of 2006 and 2008 and two long-term Senators were defeated and two resigned. For the first time in years, Jews were less over-represented than Episcopalians.

There will be a minimum of ten fewer Jewish incumbents in the 113th Congress, a dramatic fall of 18 over two cycles. But unlike in 2010, the bulk of the 2012 losses are coming not from defeat, but resignation, redistricting, or runs for higher office.

Reps. Gabrielle Giffords, Anthony Weiner, and Jane Harman all resigned from office for very different reasons, while Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Herb Kohl, Rep. Gary Ackerman (there might be only one Jewish rep in New York City!), and Rep. Barney Frank are all retiring basically for the same three: they’re old, they’re sick of the state of Congress, and, at least for Frank and Ackerman, they’re irritated by redistricting. Even more irritated are Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, forced to face off for the same district, as well as Rep. Steve Rothman, who will compete against fellow (not-Jewish) Democrat Bill Pascrell. Both primaries are being held on June 5th.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Shelley Berkley (as she mused to Tablet Magazine about doing in 2010) resigned to run for Senate in Nevada, as has Rep. Bob Filner to run for mayor of San Diego.

Is this a problem? Except to our pride, not really. They’ll still be able to hold a minyan—unless somebody in the Senate gets sick, then they’ll have to grab an aide or something—and the issues that tend to preoccupy the Jewish community are fairly mainstream and spoken for. Further, the count probably won’t actually drop into the twenties since the decline will be partially offset by races elsewhere (which I’ll detail in a future post). On the other hand, those newcomers won’t be able to push those issues nearly as forcefully—unlike in 2010, the members pulling a Bill Bixby this year have a lot of seniority. Except for Giffords, all of them had served more than a decade, most had served more than two, and Barney Frank has served a whopping three.

The real loss will be a shortage of hearing those issues that have nothing directly to do with Jews (and occasionally nothing to do with Congress) be pushed and argued from a distinct Jewish sensibility and in a Jewish voice. It’s something I can never get enough of.

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