Monday, November 1, 2010

Speaker Shuler?

Evidently Heath Shuler is pondering a run for Speaker of the House. In some ways, this makes some sense electorally as it helps him distance himself from Pelosi ("I can't be pals with Pelosi--I am going to run against her!" This also helps explain why Bill Clinton came to stump for a guy who is virtually assured victory tomorrow.

Still, this doesn't seem very likely. First, it's difficult to be Speaker if your party is not in control of the House. Even if the Democrats pull of a miracle and keep control of the House, I can't help but think that this is a little premature. After all, Shuler's only completed his second term. When Bill Graham at the Tuck Reader asked me about this, I looked up the tenure of a couple of recent speakers and concluded that, while not impossible, it would be unprecedented for such a green member of Congress to be speaker.

The next day I wondered if I had mislead the fine readers of What if Speakers used to be much more green than they are now? What if Hastert, Gingrich, and Pelosi are outliers? To find out, Thomas Jones, one of our terrific Graduate Assistants at the PPI was kind enough to look up the number of years between being elected to Congress and being selected as Speaker for every Speaker since 1899. I have graphed the results below. I also plotted where Shuler would fall. The big red line represents the average time in office before becoming Speaker.

I usually get on my students and remind them to interpret graphs for the reader, but I think my basset hound can see what I'm trying to say here. Pelosi, Gingrich, and Hastert aren't abnormal (and if they are, it's because they were in Congress for less time) . If Heath Shuler somehow is elected as Speaker of the House, he would be *by far* the most junior member of Congress elected to Speaker in more than 110 years. I'll stick with my original assessment of whether we'll be saying Speaker Shuler anytime soon: it's not impossible, but it's darn close.


  1. Thanks for the analysis -- nothing like hard, cold facts to help sort through all the opinions and editorials. It's nice to have this perspective.

  2. Mr. Shuler's announcement to challenge Mrs. Pelosi for Speaker might be akin to the caucus members who are allowed to vote against measures when their votes aren't needed. It gives them political cover and gives the leadership a chit for future.
    The Blue Dog's needed one of their members to step up and at least say they were mounting a challenge to the Speaker. That gives all of them cover and something to point to in tight races.
    Hopefully Mr. Shuler would not have announced his challenge without the tacit approval of the party leadership since doing so would make him a man without a party as it were.