Finally, some of this change we’ve been hearing about: Henry Waxman has ousted John Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Waxman is said to be on board Barack Obama’s express train to somewhere, and in this far-reaching and powerful House post he’ll have plenty of opportunity to prove he’s something more than just a really good watchdog.
Dingell, an old-school Democrat from Michigan who has done a lot of huffin’ and puffin’ for nothin’ for the past few decades on Energy and Commerce, finally got so senior that even the cherished seniority system couldn’t save him.
The guy is 81, after all, and he’s the longest-serving House member in history — and by default one of its most powerful current members.
Dingell’s practically royalty. He succeeded his dad, John Sr., in 1955 after Pop served 22 years in the job.
Yes, he deserves kudos for honking his horn all these years, but he’s in the slow lane. His wife, Debbie (who was born the year he was elected to Congress), was a lobbyist for soon-to-be-bankrupt GM, and Dingell hasn’t exactly been known as a crusader against Detroit automakers.
(Semi-humorous aside: Back in 1992, Debbie Dingell recalled for Time how she was able to switch jobs at GM from lobbyist to something else so she and John could try to avoid conflict of interest allegations. She said back then, “Fortunately, GM is large enough that I could change jobs.” Unfortunately for GM’s current employees, the whole damn company’s about to shrink into nothingness.)
Now for Waxman: He’s the Democrats’ true Beverly Hills cop. Yes, the people in his district walk around with cashmere sweaters draped around their well-toned shoulders, but Waxman is a scruffy little ill-mannered terrier the way he pokes his snout into the government’s dark recesses and barks warnings.
The California congressman has been either the ranking member or chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for years, and it’s not his fault that there’s been little of either during that time. Time after time the guy’s probes have revealed chicanery that the rest of Congress has chosen to ignore.
I’ve written about the guy’s heroic investigations numerous times. Try this item, about U.S. corruption in Iraq.
Obama won’t have to tell the energetic Waxman to get busy. The question is whether Waxman is as good at finessing good deals as he is at sniffing out the bad ones.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 20, 2008