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Leadership development in Congress:  Background and proposals for reform

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Executive Summary

Both political parties in the U.S. House of Representatives follow several norms and informal practices that contribute to leadership development of party leaders, but otherwise lack a systematic means of recruiting and training new party leaders.  This study details those norms and practices as they relate to party leadership preparation and training, leader candidate recruitment, and the selection of party leaders, reviewing how they contribute to party leadership development as well as their development-related disadvantages.  It then outlines two possible changes to the House system that could promote effective recruitment and training of future party leaders in the House:  alterations to the current nomination and selection process, and the adoption of a more formalized party leadership development program either within or outside the House.


Effective leadership is essential for a well-functioning legislature.  Legislative party leaders help shape and enforce efficient and fair chamber rules and procedures, contribute to the development of the legislative agenda, and provide lawmakers with the resources they need to successfully fulfill their representational duties.  More generally, leaders resolve collective action problems that would otherwise prevent a legislative body from meeting its constitutional responsibilities.[1]

On January 4, 2019, the House of Representatives established a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress with investigative jurisdiction over various spheres related to the operation of the House, among them “policies to develop the next generation of leaders.”[2]  To assist the Committee with that area of its jurisdiction, this essay provides a brief historical and comparative review of the subject.  After outlining how the House’s current system of nominating and selecting leaders does and does not contribute to leadership development, it draws upon House history and development programs in other legislative chambers and related organizations to suggest two possible sets of reforms to the existing system that could promote the effective recruitment and training of future leaders in the House.  While the primary focus is party leadership, the reforms—and in particular, the development of a leadership development program—could also benefit a broader range of rank-and-file lawmakers who do not pursue a formal party leadership post but who would nonetheless benefit from the development of leadership skills in the legislative setting.

Leadership Development in the Contemporary House

At present, neither political party in the U.S. House of Representatives employs a formalized program for the identification of potential party leaders and the transmission of skills and knowledge to future leaders.  This is not unusual for an American legislature; nor does it mean that the chamber lacks rules or practices that contribute to the development of future leaders in Congress, or that the House does not have methods for ambitious lawmakers to gain experience essential to effective leadership.  This section discusses various norms and rules related to leadership development that are followed by both parties and reviews how they both do and do not serve to identify and develop future House leaders.  It also considers the pros and cons of common, informal experiential sources of party leadership skills and knowledge.  These norms, rules, and informal sources of skills are evaluated based on their ability to achieve three central objectives of leadership development:  (1) the identification and recruitment of individuals with leadership potential; (2) the possession of requisite skills and knowledge by future leaders; and (3) maximizing the opportunity for qualified individuals to participate in a leadership role.  A summary of their advantages and disadvantages can be found in Table 1.

Norms and Rules Related to Leadership Opportunities, Candidate Nomination, and Leader Selection

Generally speaking, the two political parties in the House follow a series of norms and rules that shape leadership development in various ways.  Three are related to the leader nomination and selection processes.  Two others – the use of informal recruitment procedures and the establishment of multiple leadership offices – also contribute to the development of congressional leaders.

  1. Leadership Nomination and Selection. In the modern U.S. Congress, the nomination and election of most leadership positions have generally followed three basic practices.  First, candidates are self-selected, choosing independently whether to run for an elected leadership position (albeit often with the encouragement of other lawmakers, as noted below).[3]  Second, the winning candidate is chosen by the vote of the membership of either the party at large or, in the case of the Speaker, the entire chamber.  Third, regardless of how they are chosen, party leaders (particularly in the Democratic Party) are often promoted via a leadership ladder whereby candidates who occupy one leadership post are generally seen as the natural successor to another.[4]

These three practices have been part and parcel of congressional leadership nomination and selection for decades[5] and are found in many state legislatures as well.[6]  For instance, in the current (116th) Congress, 10 of 13 top Democratic leadership posts (77%) and of 7 of 8 top Republican leadership positions (88%) are elected by the party or House at large.[7]  Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the extent to which leadership ladders have been followed since the 87th Congress (1961-62).[8]  Both parties have frequently filled leadership positions with candidates who served as leader immediately below them on the ladder, and increasingly so over time, though there are differences between Democrats and Republicans.  For example, since 1961, 65% of occupants in the Democratic Party’s top four leadership positions (Speaker, majority leader, majority whip, and Caucus chair) had previously served in a leadership post just above or below them (and 83% had served in another leadership office previously, albeit not necessarily on the leadership ladder), while for Republicans, the percentages were 23% and 45%, respectively.

Candidate self-selection, election of leaders, and the use of leadership ladders contribute in several ways to leadership development and the selection of effective leaders.  They increase the likelihood that new leaders will be highly motivated, an important leadership trait, since only those willing to run for a leadership post and expend the considerable time and energy necessary to campaign for the position are likely to be chosen.[9]  As part of the campaign process (and possibly even beforehand, as preparation for an anticipated vacancy), leadership candidates are likely to become familiar with the goals and expectations of lawmakers and contribute to their fulfillment, thereby better representing those goals and expectations if chosen.[10]  In addition, the leadership ladder identifies possible candidates for higher office; and also serves as a kind of apprenticeship, giving ambitious lawmakers an opportunity to learn and demonstrate leadership skills—both legislative and political (e.g., media skill and fundraising for the party)—in lower-level posts before being selected to posts with additional responsibilities.[11]  (The latter is often true even if the ladder is not strictly followed, as discussed below.)

Nonetheless, current practices are limited in the degree to which they ensure the development and selection of effective congressional leaders.  Lawmakers who would serve as effective leaders may never do so if they fail to see themselves as having leadership potential.  Self-nominated candidates may be ambitious, but ambition does not always correspond with ability.   Those serving in posts situated lower on the leadership ladder may develop skills that are of limited use to higher positions, which carry with them new responsibilities for which they may be unprepared.  Furthermore, if lawmakers lower on a leadership ladder serve for short periods, as is often the case, they are less likely to acquire the skills necessary to serve effectively as future leaders.[12]  They may also be forced to abandon a career in leadership altogether if a party chooses to keep its top incumbent leaders in office for an extended period, halting upward mobility.  Even if they do have the opportunity to be selected for a higher leadership office, recent research has shown that lawmakers choose leaders for a variety of reasons, some—like having a professional connection via shared committee assignment or state delegation—having little to do with leadership skills or an ability to help the party achieve its collective goals.[13]  Thus, these practices are not necessarily effective substitutes for a neutral process to identify and recruit rank-and-file legislators interested in leadership, a formal process or program which instills relevant knowledge and leadership skills, or a means to ensure qualified lawmakers have an opportunity to serve in leadership.

  1. Informal Recruitment of Future Leaders. Though candidates for most party leadership positions in the House are self-selected, recruitment is an important means by which future candidates decide to run for a leadership post. Such recruitment may come from party leaders and elites, or it may come from fellow rank-and-file legislators; as one former House Democratic leader remarked, “People would say, ‘If you ever run, I want to help you.’”[14]  It may be specific to a particular leadership office, or it can take the form of longer-term, more personal mentorships and the cultivation of protégés.  Most famously, Sam Rayburn (D-TX) fostered the leadership ambitions of several future leaders, including Carl Albert (D-OK), Richard Bolling (D-MO), and Jim Wright (D-TX), and Bolling in turn was a mentor of Richard Gephardt (D-MO).[15]  In practice, the mentor-protégé system has drawbacks as a system of leadership development.  It is not especially durable, contingent upon the willingness of a sufficient number of senior lawmakers to identify and train up-and-coming members of their party for leadership positions.

Such a system may be semi-institutionalized, resulting in a “pipeline” for junior lawmakers to move up the ranks of the leadership.  Perhaps the most famous and durable example of such a pipeline is the famous “Austin-Boston” model in which Democrats alternated between southern and northern speakers of the House between the 1940s and 1980s.[16]  But this was something of an anomaly in House history, reliant on a combination of a long-serving Speaker of the House (Sam Rayburn) and a party composed of two strong regional wings.  Furthermore, because it relies on the judgment and training skills of individual leaders, it may vary in the quality of recruitment and development of future leaders.  Nor does it provide any guarantee of opportunity to serve as leader; there are numerous examples of proteges who tried but failed to be selected to a leadership post.[17]  Such a personalized system of preferment can also breed resentment among promising legislators who lack of the close ties of their peers to be considered worthy of leadership.

  1. Establishment of Multiple Leadership Offices. Since the mid-20th century, both parties in the House of Representatives have increased the number of leadership posts. This has been especially true of the Democratic Party.  In the 87th Congress (1961-62), House Democrats had only three elected leadership posts (Speaker, majority leader, and Caucus chair) plus three offices appointed by party leadership (majority whip, DCCC Chair, and chief deputy whip).  Since then, not only did the whip and DCCC chair positions become elected, but more leadership posts were created, including Caucus vice chair, Assistant Leader, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair (plus co-chairs), and several chief deputy whip positions.[18]  A similar trend has occurred in state legislatures, where the number of party leadership positions in lower chambers has grown by 23% over the past four decades, from 423 in 1976 to 521 in 2018.[19]

The proliferation of positions helps modern parties meet the multiplicity of challenges of the contemporary legislature, but also contributes to leadership development in certain ways.  It provides training opportunities for more lawmakers who wish to participate in leadership and perhaps run for higher leadership posts.  It not only accommodates a greater number of legislators with ambition for leadership, but also increases the likelihood that candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds and constituencies will have opportunities to enter leadership.  More leadership positions in turn increases the number of qualified candidates who seek higher leadership posts as they become vacant.[20]  However, there are also limitations to relying on the multiplicity of leadership positions to achieve the objectives of leadership development.  Not all leadership posts may prepare their occupants equally well for higher office; their value may decline as their number increases, or if they fail to become well established as likely avenues for higher leadership posts; and they are of limited benefit if posts higher on the leadership ladder are unavailable due to low turnover.  (Figures 1 and 2 illustrate how turnover rates are far higher in lower-level leadership positions than higher-level ones.)  One scholar has suggested that the number of party leadership positions in state legislatures is less a function of leadership development per se than a result of the political needs of existing leaders at a given time.[21]

Experiential Sources of Leadership Development

As noted above, the leadership ladder and presence of multiple leadership offices are common means by which future party leaders are developed.  But prior experience in House leadership is not the only source of experience and training available to potential leaders in Congress.  One common source from which future leaders garner the apprenticeship and skills to lead effectively is committee service.  Party leaders have often chaired, or at least served on, committees with substantial policy-related responsibilities, including Speakers Sam Rayburn (D-TX) (former chair of the Commerce Committee), Thomas Foley (D-WA) (former chair of the Agriculture Committee), John Boehner (R-OH) (former chair of the Education Committee), Paul Ryan (R-WI) (former Ways and Means Committee chair), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (former member of the Appropriations Committee and ranking Democrat on the Select Committee on Intelligence).  Leaders have attested to how such service contributes to familiarity with legislation, policy-making, and coalition-building, and how it exposes them to the interests and constituencies of a wide number of lawmakers from both parties.  Serving on the Rules Committee, a non-policy leadership committee, has also been identified by leaders as a valuable source of apprenticeship.  Former Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) recounted that serving on the committee “was an important key to my future power in the House” because it made him familiar with legislation coming to the floor and introduced him to most members of the House.[22] However, it is also not uncommon for ambitious lawmakers to turn to committee service as an alternative to serving in leadership, and some legislators see a divide between “committee people,” who are more policy-oriented, and lawmakers who are “floor-oriented” or more “generalist” and thus more likely to join leadership.[23]

Legislative and leadership experience outside the chamber is another source of expertise.  Both Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill are among those who had previously served as speakers of their respective state Houses.[24]  For others, serving as a legislative aide prior to coming to Congress, or having more informal leadership experiences in the legislature, have provided valuable training.  Trent Lott (R-MS) was a legislative staffer for William Colmer (D-MS) several years before running for Congress and eventually serving in leadership positions in both the House and Senate; Tony Coelho (D-CA) and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also served as congressional aides before serving as House leaders.  There is evidence that the same experience contributes to effective leadership in state legislatures as well.  Looking back on his time as Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Tom Loftus proclaimed that “what looked to others like a gift for leadership did not come to me on a visit to a mountain top.  I was trained for the job,” training that included serving as a staff speech writer, leading a rump caucus within his party, and helping negotiate between different intraparty factions.[25]  Other research has found a connection between participation in extended congressional party organizations and serving in higher party leadership posts.[26]

While these experiences may help supplement, if not supplant, service in a party’s leadership ladder, their ad-hoc and personal nature makes them inconsistent substitutes for more formalized training and development of future leaders.  Even effective party leaders with extensive prior political experience have expressed concern about the lack of preparation and training for future leaders.  Ralph G. Wright, long-time speaker of the Vermont State House with previous stints in local elected office and later as House minority leader, wrote in his autobiography that “I don’t believe anyone comes to the Speaker’s job prepared, because I don’t know where one would go to gain the insight or gather the knowledge required just to stay on top of things.”[27]  And experience, of course, is no guarantee of selection as a leader.

Reform Proposals

The foregoing analysis suggests that the status quo has several drawbacks in terms of leadership development.  These include the lack of an institutionalized process for identifying and training future leaders, inconsistent levels of preparation and training available to potential and lower-level party leaders, and non-neutral methods of evaluating skill potential among leadership candidates.  The following section outlines two broad sets of reforms that House could implement to address these drawbacks:  (1) changes to the rules and norms governing leadership nomination, selection, and service; and (2) the establishment of a formalized party leadership development program.

Change the Leadership Nomination and Selection Process

One or more changes to either or both party’s rules and norms governing the nomination and selection of leaders could be implemented to address the limitations of the status quo, though their positive effects are likely to be limited and could be counterproductive (see Table 2).  These include:

  • Formalizing and extending the leadership ladder.  As shown in Figures 1 and 2, neither party has promoted their top four leaders from positions lower than the fourth position on the leadership ladder since at least 2002 (though Democrats did so for Caucus Chair this year).  Both parties could extend the ladder to encompass more leadership posts, encouraging occupants of those positions to run for higher leadership offices and otherwise nurturing a norm that those leaders should be promoted barring compelling reasons not to.  The parties could also amend their rules to automatically nominate lower-level leaders for higher positions when they become vacant.
  • Creating more (development-oriented) leadership positions.  Should the number of lawmakers interested in leadership significantly exceed the number of available positions, the parties could create more elected posts, thereby expanding the opportunities for lawmakers to develop and demonstrate leadership skills.  Those positions could include an informal training or mentorship component that exposes their occupants to the skills and abilities necessary to succeed in higher level leadership offices.[28]  The positions could be permanent or temporary.  For instance, a rule could be adopted that creates one or more new leadership posts only under the condition that the same top four leadership positions remain occupied by the same individuals for more than a set period of time (e.g. “deputy leader” or “leader in waiting”), then eliminates those positions when one or more of those individuals is replaced.
  • Imposing term limits on leaders.  To increase the likelihood of vacancies in leadership posts, the parties could impose term limits on offices currently not subject to such limits (as the House Republican Party did for the speakership between 1995 and 2002).  House Democrats recently adopted term limits for the speakership, but these could be extended to other positions as well by either or both political parties.  In some state legislatures (e.g. Florida) there are rules or norms that dictate short tenure for leaders, albeit fewer than in the past.[29]
  • Increasing the role of leaders in the nomination and selection process.  Should party leaders be deemed better equipped to identify and recruit future leaders than the party at large, the parties could reduce the number of offices chosen by election, extend the number of positions for which candidates must be nominated by party leaders, or allow leaders to nominate one candidate for a vacant leadership office (“leader’s nominee”).

 As noted above and in Table 2, while these reforms may address one or more drawbacks to the current development process, they also have limitations of their own.  In fact, some may exacerbate existing problems with the status quo.  Creating more leadership offices, for instance, may further limit the value of individual positions as a means of identifying and developing future leaders and, by creating more conflict and competition for higher level leadership positions, work at cross-purposes with the formalization and stabilization of the leadership ladder.  Another proposal, imposing strict term limits on more leadership offices, would further limit the ability of party members to select their own leaders and, more problematically, sharply constrain the time available to train members of lower-level leadership positions or allow them to exercise leadership.

Establish a Party Leadership Development Program

As an alternative means of addressing drawbacks to the existing system of leadership development and training, the House could develop and implement an internally- or externally-situated party leadership development program.  The program would be designed to identify, recruit, and train lawmakers so that they are equipped with skills and knowledge that maximize their likelihood of leadership success.   Such a program could be situated internally, run by each party (or by a bipartisan committee), though the scarcity of successful models of internal leadership development programs in American legislatures makes this approach more uncertain.  There are, however, numerous examples of externally-run development programs related to state or federal legislative leadership, any of which could serve as a model for a new, Congress-specific leadership training program (run, for instance, by a non-profit institution, by a think tank or university, or some combination thereof).  Some programs in existence at the federal or state level are focused on training and preparing individuals for future legislative service, while others focus on training incumbent lawmakers.  They include:

  • the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership (Council of State Governments)
  • the Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills (Southern Legislative Conference)
  • the Congressional Leadership Development Program (Muslim Public Affairs Council and Islamic Scholarship Fund)
  • the Emerging Legislative Leadership Program (State Legislative Leaders Foundation)
  • the Empire State Fellows Program (Rockefeller Institute of Government)
  • the Georgia Legislative Leadership Institute (Carl Vinson Institute of Government)
  • the Leadership Institute for Public Service (Congressional Black Caucus Foundation)
  • the Legislative Leadership Program (Michigan State University)
  • and the Western Legislative Academy (Council of State Governments West)

Though space precludes a detailed outline of how a party leadership development program would be structured, one can envision a program that addresses each of the three aforementioned objectives of any leadership development program:

  • (1) The identification and recruitment of individuals with leadership potential.  The program could be structured via a competitive application process to ensure lawmakers motivated to take on party leadership duties are able and encouraged to participate.  It could also reserve a limited number of slots available to lawmakers who are nominated by other party members or existing leaders, based on their perceived leadership potential or demonstrated contributions to the party or the institution.
  • (2) The transmission of requisite skills and knowledge to future leaders.  By drawing upon existing leadership development programs, input from current and former lawmakers, and others, a consistent and uniform curriculum could be developed that is directly related to skills necessary to serve as an effective party leader in either the majority, the minority, or both.  It would ensure that leadership candidates are given a wide breadth and balance of requisite knowledge and skills, rather than just a few (like effective fundraising) that may be necessary but not sufficient to ensure success as leader.
  • (3) Maximizing the opportunity for qualified individuals to participate in a leadership role.  In theory, party rules could be restructured such that participants in the program are guaranteed a leadership position upon completion.  A more limited approach would be to automatically nominate program graduates for vacancies in certain leadership offices, or encourage the development of new norms that give candidates for leadership positions who complete the program the imprimatur of strong qualifications that may help them be selected.

It should also be noted that such a program could be of use to a broader array of lawmakers than those considering a formal party leadership position.  Leadership skills can be applied to a broad range of tasks and responsibilities of lawmakers, including coalition-building, serving as a (sub) committee chair or ranking member, or leadership in an intra- or inter-party caucus.  Thus, this proposed reform not only would serve as a training ground for party leaders but could also serve as a professional development opportunity for would-be leaders and non-leaders alike.


About the Authors

Matthew Green is a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  A former legislative aide in the House of Representatives, Professor Green has authored or coauthored numerous books and articles about the U.S. Congress with a particular focus on congressional leadership and political parties.  His books include The Speaker of the House:  A Study of Leadership (2010), Underdog Politics:  The Minority Party in the U.S. House of Representatives (2015), Choosing the Leader:  Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives with Douglas Harris (2019), and Legislative Hardball:  The House Freedom Caucus and the Power of Threat-Making in Congress (2019).

Douglas Harris is a professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore.  His publications on Congress, political parties, and media politics include articles in numerous scholarly journals as well as in edited collections on congressional elections and scandals, media framing techniques, and public trust in government.  His books include The Austin-Boston Connection: Fifty Years of House Democratic Leadership (2009), Doing Archival Research in Political Science (2012), and Choosing the Leader: Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives (2019) with Matthew Green.


Figure 1.  Changes in Leadership in the House Democratic Caucus, 1961-2019

Solid outline = change in occupant(s) for that Congress; blue = leader selected from one step below the leadership ladder; green = leader selected from two steps below leadership ladder; grey = leader selected from three or more steps below leadership ladder, or was previously in a leadership post outside the ladder; . = position did not exist or data not available.


Figure 2.  Changes in Leadership in the House Republican Conference, 1961-2019

Solid outline = change in occupant(s) for that Congress; blue = leader selected from one step below the leadership ladder; green = leader selected from two steps below leadership ladder; grey = leader selected from three or more steps below leadership ladder, or was previously in a leadership post outside the ladder; . = position did not exist or data not available.


Table 1.  Evaluating Elements of Leadership Development in the Current U.S. House

Goals of Leadership Development
Features of Leadership Development (1) Identification of Individuals with Leadership Potential (2) Leaders Possess Requisite Skills (3) Strong Candidates Have Opportunity to Serve as Leader
Candidate self-selection Con:  not all individuals with potential are self-motivated Pro: candidates likely to be motivated

Con: motivation does not always correspond with ability

Election by members n/a Pro: winning candidates likely to be familiar with needs of members

Con: lawmakers may select leaders for reasons unrelated to leadership skills

Leadership Ladder Pro: serve as bench for future leaders Pro: likely to develop leadership experience

Con: experience may be insufficient or irrelevant to new post

Pro:  those on ladder more likely to be promoted

Con:  no guarantee of promotion; qualified non-ladder candidates are disadvantaged; time lag and lack of responsiveness to change in selection system

Informal Recruitment Pro:  leaders well-suited to identify leadership potential

Con: contingent upon interest and ability of leaders to recruit

n/a Con:  no guarantee of selection
Multiple Leadership Offices Pro: serve as broad bench for future leaders Pro: more opportunities to develop leadership experience

Con: overspecialization of skills, responsibilities spread across too many leadership offices

Pro: accommodates more individuals interested in leadership

Con: no guarantee of promotion

Informal Training n/a Pro: many valuable sources of relevant training and experience

Con: inconsistent; prior experience may be insufficient or irrelevant to new post



Table 2.  Possible Changes to the Leadership Nomination and Selection Process

  Problem Designed to Address    
Reform Proposal  1. Candidates with Potential are not Identified 2. Candidates Lack Requisite Skills 3. Lack of Opportunities for Future Leaders Other Advantages Drawbacks or Limitations
Formalize and Extend Leadership Ladder X X Institutionalizes recruitment and training Limits opportunities for lawmakers not on ladder
Create More (Development-Oriented) Leadership Positions X X May reduce value of individual positions, destabilize the leadership ladder
Impose Term Limits on Leaders X Prevents party from retaining experienced leaders
Increase Role of Leaders in Nomination and Selection Process X Reduces number of elected leadership posts Reduces ability of party members to select leaders
Establish a Formalized Training Program X X X Institutionalizes recruitment and training Costs and uncertainties associated with new program



[1] David R. Mayhew, Congress:  The Electoral Connection (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1974); Barbara Sinclair Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

[2] H. Res. 6, Title II, Sec. 201(c)(2)(C).

[3] Nominees for the speakership are chosen by party-wide election, but candidates may also be nominated directly on the House floor.  “Electing the Speaker of the House of Representatives:  Frequently Asked Questions,” Report R44243, November 26, 2018 (Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service), p.2n8.

[4] Matthew N. Green and Douglas B. Harris, Choosing the Leader:  Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2019).

[5] See e.g. Anthony Champagne, Douglas B. Harris, James W. Riddlesperger Jr., and Garrison Nelson, The Austin-Boston Connection:  Five Decades of House Democratic Leadership, College Station:  Texas A&M University Press, 2009); and Malcolm E. Jewell and Samuel C. Patterson, The Legislative Process in the United States, 4th ed. (New York:  Random House, 1986), p. 116.

[6] See e.g. Patricia K. Freeman, “A Comparative Analysis of Speaker Career Patterns in U. S. State Legislatures,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 20, no. 3 (1995): 365-76; Peverill Squire, “Changing State Legislative Leadership Careers,” from Changing Patterns in State Legislative Careers, ed. Gary F. Moncrief and Joel A. Thompson (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 1992), pp. 185-188.

[7] For Democrats, these posts include Speaker, Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Caucus Chair, Caucus Vice Chair, Assistant Leader (appointed by the Speaker), DCCC Chair, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair and three co-chairs, and two Senior Chief Deputy Whips (appointed by the whip).  For Republicans, these posts include Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Conference Chair, Conference Vice Chair, Conference Secretary, Policy Chair, NRCC Chair, and Chief Deputy Whip (appointed by the whip).

[8] The House Democratic leadership ladder is defined as follows:  (1) Speaker, (2) Democratic Leader, (3) Whip, (4) Caucus Chair, (5) Caucus Secretary/Vice Chair, and (6) DCCC Chair; Assistant Leader and Democratic (Senior)(Chief) Deputy Whips excluded.  The House Republican leadership ladder is defined as follows:  (1) Speaker, (2) Republican Leader, (3) Whip, (4) Conference Chair, (5) Conference Vice Chair, (6) Conference Secretary, (7) Policy Chair, and (8) (Planning and) Research Chair (1965-1994); NRCC Chair and Chief Deputy Whip excluded.  Leaders who move down one rung because of the loss of party majority are still considered to have followed the leadership ladder if they did so in gaining their previous (higher) leadership post.

[9] Green and Harris 2019.

[10] This includes fundraising for the party and for individual candidates.  Green and Harris 2019; Sinclair 1995, 9-10.

[11] The same is also true in many state legislatures, particularly more professionalized chambers, which give “longer apprenticeships” to lawmakers in lower-level leadership posts and follow “clear patterns of succession.”  Alan Rosenthal, The Decline of Representative Democracy:  Process, Participation, and Power in State Legislatures, (Washington , D.C:  CQ Press, 1998), p. 249; Squire 1992, 176.

[12] Malcolm E. Jewell and Samuel C. Patterson, The Legislative Process in the United States, 4th ed. (New York:  Random House, 1986), p. 115.  Leadership tenures have declined in the House to some degree:  consider Sam Rayburn’s two-decade service as his party’s top leader, for instance, or Bob Michel’s 14-year tenure as Republican leader.  This is especially so in state legislatures, particularly those with term limits.  Rosenthal 1988, p. 248.  Research in local politics has found a similar value of apprenticeship via service in other leadership positions as a means of training and identifying future leaders.  Kenneth Prewitt, The Recruitment of Political Leaders:  A Study of Citizen-Politicans (New York:  Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc., 1970), pp. 112-114.

[13] Green and Harris 2019.

[14] Quoted in Green and Harris 2019, 31.

[15] Green and Harris 2019, 29-30.

[16] Champagne et al. 2009, pp. 13.14; Green and Harris 2019, pp. 29 and 121.

[17] For example, Richard Bolling (D-MO), a close ally of Sam Rayburn, tried but failed to be elected as Majority Leader in 1962 and 1976.

[18] Counting whips and party committees, the number of lawmakers in leadership positions grew to over a hundred in each party by the 105th Congress (1995-96).  Scott R. Meinke, Leadership Organizations in the House of Representatives:  Party Participation and Partisan Politics.  Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, pp, 38-39.

[19] Squire 1992, Table 1 (pp. 177-78); and The Book of States 2018, Table 3.7.

[20] The average number of candidates who run for contested leadership positions in the House has grown slightly over the past five decades, from 2.25 to 2.35.  Green and Harris 2019, 218.

[21] Squire 1992, 178.

[22] Green and Harris 2019, 30-31; Tip O’Neill (with William Novak), Man of the House:  The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O’Neill (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1987), p. 160.

[23] Green and Harris 2019, p. 29.

[24] See e.g. O’Neill 1987, p. 326.

[25] Tom Loftus, The Art of Legislative Politics (Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press, 1994), pp. 48, 50, 55, 57.

[26] Scott Meinke, Leadership Organizations in the House of Representatives:  Party Participation and Partisan Politics (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2016).

[27] Ralph G. Wright, Inside the Statehouse:  Lessons from the Speaker (Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press, 2005), p. 96.

[28] That component could take the form of party task forces responsible for particular duties, such as agenda development or communication, with other, higher-ranked leaders also participating in the task forces, thereby “pairing” higher-level leaders with lower ones.

[29] Squire 1992, 181.

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Topics: Reform Efforts