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Washington Week

October 27, 2010 - 6:00pm

As the midterm elections come to a close, the question asked repeatedly in Florida's U.S. Senate race should be answered before the polls open next Tuesday.

The question is: With which political party would independent candidate Charlie Crist caucus if he were to win the election? The question needs an answer because Crist's current answer isnt plausible. He's been claiming that he might not caucus with the Republican or the Democratic party, but instead he'll caucus with the people of Florida. The answer isn't plausible because the U.S. Senate works like this:

Committee assignments, desks, office assignments, etc., are all allocated according to the final ratio of the number of Democratic vs. GOP senators. In other words, say the Senate ends up having a ratio of 51 GOP senators vs. 49 Democratic senators. The committee assignments, and all other goodies, are basically divided as if the each of the 51 GOP senators and 49 Democratic senators count as 1 percent.

In the above scenario, the GOP would get 51 percent of all of the Senate committee assignments, and the Democrats would receive the remaining 49 percent. These committee assignments are then dispersed via the two party leaders. The Independent Party does not receive any assignments or "goodies." So for Senate candidate Crist to say he might not caucus with either party means he will receive no committee assignments.

Looking at past U.S. Senate history, this scenario has occurred only when a senator is incapacitated due to illness. This script has also played out when a senator has been indicted or is under serious criminal or ethical investigation.

In these cases, the respective party leader has stripped the senator of his or her committee assignments. So, if Crist won't caucus with either party, he will not be included in any party organizational meetings, and without any committee assignments, the new senator from Florida would not be able to discuss issues important to Florida.

The people of Florida need to know this before they go to the polls and vote next Tuesday. They already know that if they vote for Marco Rubio, he will get his committee assignments and other duties from the Republican leader in the Senate. They know if they vote for Kendrick Meek, he will get his goodies from the Democratic leader in the Senate. Apparently, if they vote for Charlie Crist, he would receive no committee assignments and thus not be able to adequately represent the citizens of Florida.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of www

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