Whitfield Retirement Leaves Vacuum on House Energy Agenda

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By Dean Scott and Rachel Leven

Sept. 1 — This week’s resignation by House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) leaves a leadership vacuum for a key post overseeing the House energy agenda that won’t be formally filled until next year.

If Republicans hold the House this fall, as most political experts predict, Whitfield’s successor would be named by the next chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee and not the current one, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Upton is term-limited; the contest is likely to come down to a choice between Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. John Shimkus, both current Energy and Commerce subcommittee chairmen.

Whitfield announced this week his plans to resign from the House effective Sept. 6; Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) announced Aug. 31 that a special election to fill the vacant first district Kentucky seat will be set for Nov. 8 to coincide with the presidential election.

Amanda Stamper, a spokesman for Bevin’s office, confirmed that the first district seat would remain vacant until the general election. The winner, she said, would be sworn in that same month; thus the victor would have seniority over other incoming freshmen who wouldn’t take office until 2017.

In the interim, Whitfield’s vice chairman at the energy and power subcommittee, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), will take over—he is slated to preside over a Sept. 7 subcommittee hearing examining the Federal Power Act and recent actions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Olson “will handle the duties of the subcommittee” for the months ahead, according to Sean Bonyun, the House Energy and Commerce Committee majority spokesman.

Kentuckians voting Nov. 8 to fill Whitfield’s first district seat will be choosing between Democrat Sam Gaskins and Republican James Comer.

Clash at Full Committee Ahead

Whitfield first announced his plans for retirement in September 2015, just four days after then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his own departure. Whitfield by then had been dogged by investigations by the House Ethics Committee involving his wife’s lobbying activities on behalf of the nonprofit The Humane Society.

In July, the House Ethics Committee rebuked the lawmaker for violating House rules but said his action was unintentional and no further step was warranted, Bloomberg reported. Whitfield formally resigned in an Aug. 29 letter to Bevin, the Kentucky governor.

In the battle to succeed Upton at the helm of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Shimkus has a slight edge over Walden in seniority and crossed a major hurdle in March when he defeated a tea party challenger in the Republican primary in Illinois’ 15th District. Jordan Haverly, a spokesman for Shimkus, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that the congressman is interested in the chairmanship but said it would be “premature to discuss subcommittee chairs.”

Walden’s position as leader of the National Republican Congressional Committee could vault him ahead of Shimkus in the race for the post. He has expressed interest in the position but was coy in a statement issued Sept. 1.

“Of course, serving as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee would be an important responsibility, but any discussion of that is still very premature,” Andrew Malcolm, Walden’s spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 1.

Missing Energy Conferee

Walden “is focused on preserving and growing our Republican majority as NRCC chair” as well as his work as subcommittee chairman and representing Oregon’s second district, the spokesman said.

Whitfield’s departure ends more than 20 years of service in the House. He spent much of his time since being named to chair the subcommittee in 2011 lambasting the Obama administration for unleashing what Republicans argue is a tsunami of environmental and climate change regulations.

Upton released a statement Sept. 1 lamenting the loss of his subcommittee chairman. Whitfield has been “a trusted, respected, and valued voice at Energy and Commerce, a thoughtful legislator through and through, and a fierce advocate for what’s best for Kentucky and the nation,” Upton said.

Another vacancy that must be filled is Whitfield’s position as a conferee to reconcile differences in a broad energy bill between versions passed earlier this year by the House (H.R. 8) and Senate (S. 2012). But the high-level negotiations will likely to be handled by Upton, the energy committee chairman, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as the top minority ranking Democrats on the two committees.A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s message asking who would replace Shimkus in conference.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott at dscott@bna.com and Rachel Leven at rleven@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

Rep. Whitfield’s resignation letter is available at http://src.bna.com/iev.

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