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Kanjorski Loss Leaves Big Void on Finance Panel

With Rep. Paul Kanjorski vanquished, the congressional horse-trading will begin to determine the leadership structure of the House Financial Services Committee.

Sen. Paul Kanjorski
Bill Clark | Roll Call | Getty Images
Sen. Paul Kanjorski

Kanjorski (D-Pa.) is Finance Chairman Barney Frank’s top deputy on the committee, but that will all change in January when the Republican majority takes over.

After surviving two previous challenges, Kanjorski succumbed Tuesday to challenger Louis Barletta, a mayor in the 13-term congressman’s district in the northeast part of the state.

With Kanjorski out of the way and the Democrats headed into the minority, all eyes will turn to whether the party leadership passes the baton to ultra-left California Rep. Maxine Waters. On the seniority scale, Waters would be next in line. But in the House, anything can happen.

With an ethics trial on the horizon and an electorate not taking kindly to the kind of rabidly liberal politics for which Waters is known, some industry leaders shudder at the thought of her in a leadership role, even within the minority party.

“If it falls to Maxine Waters that would be a big deal to us,” Camden Fine, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said on CNBC. “I’m not sure the Democratic caucus or steering committee or conference would give Maxine Waters the open chair.”

The notion of Waters emerging into a Finance leadership role stirred a lively debate during “Squawk Box,” a show on which Kanjorski was a regular guest. The committee upheaval comes amid rumblings that President Obama might appoint Frank to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the coming months.

Fine said he would expect House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer would push Rep. Spencer Bauchus of Alabama for Kanjorski’s position and ultimately the Democratic leadership post on the committee.

But that’s not assured considering Waters’ feistiness and her seniority.

“I think it’d be very surprising were she not ranking (member),” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) “You’ve got to remember what’s left of the Democratic Party in the house is really hardcore. I mean, this is a very liberal House now (after Tuesday’s election) even compared to what it was, which is pretty far left, and Maxine is in the mainstream of that philosophy of the government.”

If it is Waters, that indeed would mark a significant departure in philosophy from the moderate Kanjorski.

The heart of Kanjorski’s district is Luzerne County, arguably the most corrupt in the nation. The Democratic machine there has seen more than 30 of its top leaders indicted on a mind-boggling variety of public corruption charges over the past couple of years. They range from two judges charged with taking kickbacks in exchange for sending young offenders to a juvenile detention facility owned by an influential local attorney, to former NFL lineman and county commissioner Greg Skrepanak accepting bribes.

In all, it was too much even for Kanjorski’s well-oiled political machine to overcome.

So while he will leave a seniority void in his district, his defeat also ensures another political headache for his party on a committee likely to keep quite active after the Republican reformers take over.

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