|Photo courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol
The political ads have stopped, the campaigning has ended, and we are in the final days of 2012. The election season was a tumultuous affair with some big changes but plenty of business as usual. Here is a quick run-down of the key changes in Congress and what it means for historic preservation.
Looking at the big picture, Democrats retained control of the Senate, and Republicans retained control of the House, which could mean continued stalemates on key pieces of legislation. Democrats did gain a few seats in each chamber, giving them a stronger majority in the Senate and closing the gap on the Republican majority in the House.
Although the party leadership in Congress didn’t shift, there are some important changes to make note of. A record number of minorities voted in November, and as a result there is a shift in the Congressional make-up. This session marks the election of the first Buddhist senator, the first Hindu representative, a record number of women and Latinos in Congress, and the first LGBT congressman of color. For the first time, the Congressional representation is mirroring the demographics of our country.
Also important to note are the large number of newly-elected members of Congress. There will be nearly 100 freshmen from 34 different states on the Hill next session. A quick look at statistics shows that of these new members, 56 are Democrat and 38 are Republican, 83 are in the House of Representatives and 12 are in the Senate, and 71 are men and 24 are women. In addition to the freshman class, one-third of House Republicans have three years experience or less.
So, what do these statistics mean for historic preservation? One indicator might be the make-up of the Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus in the House of Representatives. Of the current membership, 96 members will be returning, 10 members are retiring, 11 members lost their seat in the election, and 5 members sought another office. Sadly, preservation champion and caucus co-chair Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO), lost his seat in the election.
Another indicator of how preservation might fare in the next session can be seen in the new rosters for key committees that handle preservation-related legislation. Although many of the committee assignments are still being finalized, we can expect to see changes in the Interior Appropriations committee—which handles funding for historic preservation programs, the Finance and Ways and Means Committees—which deal with tax issues including the historic preservation tax credit, the Transportation and Environment and Public Works Committees—which oversee transportation authorization, and the Natural Resources and Energy and Natural Resources Committees—which oversee a host of preservation-related issues including authorizing legislation and changes to existing preservation regulations.
With so many new members of Congress and new committee assignments, supporters of historic preservation need to reach out to their elected officials early in next session to familiarize them with legislative priorities. We can expect that with the continued fiscal crisis and challenges to environmental and preservation regulations, advocates will have to be more engaged than ever to ensure historic preservation remains an important tool to generate jobs, spur community revitalization, encourage tourism, and promote civic pride.
Rhonda Sincavage is Director of Public Relations and Programs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.#election #Advocacy #congress