California Capitol Pipeline to Congress

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), right, before speaking to the media flanked by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), left, and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), center, in Washington, DC.

Updated at 12:55 pm EST

No sooner had Rep. George Miller announced his retirement Jan. 13 than another California Democrat, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, announced plans to succeed him.

DeSaulnier’s interest is understandable. Miller has been in the House since 1975, so there was plenty of pent-up ambition among would-be successors. DeSaulnier ran for the House in 2009 in a different district, so his interest in Congress seems clear. And he serves in the state legislature, long a pipeline to Congress.

In California, the legislature-to-Congress pipeline is more productive than other states.’ About half of California’s current House members, 26 of 53, were first elected to the House as sitting state legislators. Another five were former state legislators. Miller was an aide to a California legislator.

Nationally, 50 percent of U.S. House members and 46 percent of senators were former state legislators as of January 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California’s House ratio — with 31 of the 53 claiming statehouse experience — was 58 percent.

Term limits apply to California legislators, who may serve no more than 12 years in one or both chambers. (For two decades until 2012, the limits were six years in the state Assembly and eight in the state Senate.) Without opportunities to amass long legislative careers in Sacramento, state legislators can look to Washington.

Then there’s the sheer size of California’s legislative districts. While California has increased its population to 38.3 million in 2013 from 1.5 million in 1900, growing its U.S. House delegation to 53 members from eight along the way, the size of the California legislature during that time has remained fixed at 120 members — 40 in the state Senate and 80 in the Assembly.

That means that a California state senator like DeSaulnier has more constituents than a U.S. House member like Miller. A California state senator represents more than 958,000 constituents on average, compared with about 723,000 for a California U.S. House member.

In announcing his candidacy for Congress Jan. 13, the same day Miller disclosed his retirement, DeSaulnier noted that he represents about 70 percent of Miller’s district, giving him a good political base and name recognition. Miller’s 11th District is a Democratic bastion that takes in part of Contra Costa County, including all of Concord and Richmond. DeSaulnier is getting early support from some Democrats in Congress and the state legislature.

The 26 of 53 House members from California elected to Congress as incumbent state legislators include Republican John Campbell, a former state senator from southern California who’s retiring at the end of this year. The best-funded candidate in the race to succeed him is a state senator, Republican Mimi Walters.

Retiring Republican Rep. Buck McKeon, who never served in the California legislature, may be succeeded by a Republican who does (state Sen. Steve Knight) or did (former state Sen. Tony Strickland, who lost a 2012 House race in a different district near Los Angeles).

In California’s competitive 36th District in and around Palm Springs, Republicans are promoting a state Assembly member, Brian Nestande, against Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz, a physician who won his seat in 2012.

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