WASHINGTON — California's congressional delegation will take a double hit when a new Congress convenes in January.
Its two Democratic senators will be serving in the minority for the first time since 2006, while the House delegation will have lost more than a century of legislative experience after a handful of Democrats and Republicans decided to retire.
Chief among the losses, Democrat Henry Waxman is retiring after 20 terms. Colleague Nancy Pelosi said Waxman made his mark challenging sacred cows, most memorably the tobacco industry, where his work led to stronger health warnings on cigarettes and gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products.
He also tangled with the pharmaceutical industry, spearheading efforts in the House during the 1980s to make it easier for generic drugs to enter the market.
"You name it: The bigger they were, the harder he fought," Pelosi said.
Waxman, as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, helped Democrats push through President Barack Obama's health-insurance overhaul in 2010. He also led the Democratic effort in the House to pass a bill meant to curb climate change, which the Senate declined to consider.
A fellow Democrat, Rep. George Miller, also is retiring after serving 20 terms. He helped push portions of the Affordable Care Act through his committee, Education and the Workforce, as well. During the previous administration of President George W. Bush, Miller worked with Republicans to pass the No Child Left Behind education overhaul.
The law beefed up testing requirements and held schools more accountable for poor performance. He also was a player on environmental issues, authoring a bill in the 1990s that required more water from the federal Central Valley Project to go toward restoring fish and wildlife habitat.
"Whatever state they would be from or whatever time in history they would have served, they are absolute giants in the history of the Congress," Pelosi said.
Conservatives have a different point of view about what California will be missing.
Grover Norquist, a national anti-tax advocate, said he felt ambivalence about Waxman and Miller leaving. With the GOP in control, they couldn't act on their priorities, anyway.
His chief complaint about their work over the years was that whatever help they gave one group took from others in the form of higher taxes and fees.
Miller said he was proud to steer the federal government toward a more active role in such areas as education and health care. "I came here to sort of take the scales of justice and see if I could move them a little bit for the disenfranchised," he said.
California also is losing three veteran Republican congressmen in Buck McKeon, Gary Miller and John Campbell. McKeon, the most senior of the group, is the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, where he has fought efforts to reduce military spending.
He represented a congressional district whose major employers included Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. One of his top clashes with the Pentagon involved its proposal to shut down the Air Force's Global Hawk, a high-altitude drone the Pentagon said was not cost-effective. Critics said he was protecting parochial interests.
The plane is built in his district, but McKeon said the Air Force was using questionable assumptions and that reports he heard from military personnel in the field indicated a need for more intelligence. He ended up winning that particular disagreement with the Pentagon.
California still has friends in high places among its 53 House members, chiefly Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who is expected to continue serving as the House Majority Leader.
He will lead the GOP's fights over national policies, but he also has said he plans to use his position to raise awareness of valley fever. The soil-borne fungal infection can be particularly debilitating for the elderly.
McCarthy also can be expected to take up the interests of the agricultural community whenever Congress revisits water policy.
California also will have the top-ranking Democrat in the House in Pelosi, who will be serving her 15th term in the next Congress.
California's Democratic senators will lose two-high profile committee assignments when Republicans take control, after winning the majority in November's midterm elections.
Sen. Barbara Boxer will no longer lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein will step aside from leading the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence next year.
Feinstein also will step down from the top position on the subcommittee within the Senate Appropriations Committee that is responsible for funding the U.S. Department of Energy and water projects around the country.
Boxer discounted how serving in the minority affects a senator's influence.
"If you look at the committees I'm on, people really work together in most cases," Boxer said. "On public works, we really work together. We don't work together very well on the environmental side, but that doesn't matter whether you're in the majority or minority. That's just the way it is."