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State delegation to Congress may bring less clout, more energy

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The state's delegation to Capitol Hill will be its least experienced in many years, although those new members can bring new energy to Washington, D.C., a former longtime Indiana congressman said.

Besides the loss of Republican Richard Lugar after 36 years in the Senate, last week's election results mean seven of Indiana's nine House members will be in their first or second terms when the new Congress takes office in January.

In all, Indiana will lose 78 years of congressional experience among its senators and representatives.

The seniority loss "certainly is less clout, less power in a sense," said Lee Hamilton, the director of Indiana University's Center on Congress and a Democrat who represented Indiana in the House from 1965 through 1998.

"So Indiana loses in the short run, probably, in terms of seniority, but it has new energy, new people, new perspectives. And the Congress needs that as well," Hamilton told The Journal Gazette for a story Monday.

Indiana will have three new Republican House members.

Susan Brooks will replace GOP Rep. Dan Burton, who didn't seek re-election after 30 years in Congress, and Luke Messer follows Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence, who has been in Congress for 12 years. Jackie Walorski won the seat that three-term Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly gave up for his successful U.S. Senate campaign.

The Indiana delegation's inexperience will likely show up in committee assignments, where seniority still plays a factor in the pecking order, said Michael Wolf, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

"Congress is more than just votes," Wolf said. "What you should be looking at is the process, particularly with the committees."

The only members of the Indiana delegation with significant congressional experience are Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky, who was first elected to his northwestern Indiana district in 1984, and Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who served in the House and Senate for 18 years through 1998 and was re-elected in 2010.

Wolf said Donnelly's six years in the House should help in his shift to the Senate.

Hamilton said capable people can rise to prominence quickly in Congress.

"You want to get there when you're young enough to build up seniority, but you've still got to have the ability, because you're playing in a fast league," Hamilton said.

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