It's pretty easy to figure out who has power in the Connecticut state legislature.
Just look for the parking spaces.
Drive through the parking lot of the Connecticut statehouse and browse who all gets parking privileges. And an even better yardstick to measure that pecking order is study how close each spot is to the front door.
There are multiple parking spaces for Deputy Speakers of the House. There are also places for Assistant Deputy Speakers, the Chief Deputy Minority Leader, Assistant Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Deputy Caucus Leader and so on.
There's a parking place specifically set aside for state Rep. Shawn Johnston (D). And a sign even denotes that a given spot is "Reserved for Rod Berger."
When it comes to legislative leadership, no state leads like Connecticut. All told, in the Connecticut General Assembly, Democrats boast a total of 50 leadership positions. Nearly one leadership post for half of the 114 seats Democrats currently hold in the 151-member state legislature.
The Connecticut leadership hierarchy works like this: Democrats have a Speaker, a Majority Leader, six Deputy Speakers, the Chief Assistant Speaker for Economic Affairs, the Assistant Deputy Speaker, seven Deputy Majority Leaders, a Majority Caucus Chair, a Deputy Majority Caucus Chair, two Majority Whips At Large, three Deputy Majority Whips, eight Assistant Majority Whips and 18 Assistant Majority Leaders.
Lots of cooks in the legislative kitchen. And lots of lawmakers with parking perquisites.
In fact, the Connecticut statehouse model could be a harbinger of things to come in Congress.
With their new minority status, perhaps House Democrats may have swiped a page from the Connecticut State Assembly's guide to human resources management. When they shift to the minority in January, Democratic leaders will find themselves with less money and less office space.
Which is precisely why Democrats have spent the better part of the month figuring out new titles and leadership posts. And they've even bestowed a new title on one leadership figure to maintain the current majority leadership team in the minority.
In the majority, House Democrats possessed five formal leadership positions: Speaker, Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Caucus Chair and Caucus Vice Chair. But under most circumstances, the minority party only gets four leadership posts: Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Caucus Chair and Caucus Vice Chair.
After Republicans skunked Democrats in the midterm elections, most Capitol Hill insiders suspected that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would retire. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) announced he wouldn't be back when Republicans lost the majority in 2006. Even former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) stepped aside when Republicans retained control of the House in 1998 by a narrow margin. After four years, Republicans grew weary of Gingrich. His stewardship of the House was tumultuous. Gingrich saw the writing on the wall and resigned.
But Pelosi decided to stay and make a bid for Minority Leader. And that immediately pitted the Democrats' current number two, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) against the number three, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC). Hoyer and Clyburn then waged a quiet but sometimes rough, internecine, behind-closed-doors fight to be Pelosi's lieutenant next year and serve as Minority Whip.
"When you lose, everyone takes a step down," said a senior Democratic source close to Pelosi.
But the concept of "everyone taking a step down" has consequences. Especially when you're Democrats. And the House Democratic Caucus is populated by powerful blocs like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), both of whom have had rocky relations at times with Pelosi over the years.
"Taking a step down" means that Democrats dispatched Clyburn, only the second African American to ever serve in Congressional leadership, to "Caucus Chairman." Such a downgrade would remove Clyburn from the formal, top tier of leadership. Some could interpret that as an affront to the CBC. Moreover, Democrats would then have bumped current Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) to Vice Caucus Chair. And that in turn would have bounced present Vice Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) from leadership entirely and inflamed tensions with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
"She never considered the collateral damage," said one senior House Democratic aide of Pelosi's decision to hang around and create the leadership fight.
So what to do?
If the Connecticut General Assembly can fabricate dozens upon dozens of assistant and junior varsity leadership positions to keep everyone happy, then House Democrats can conjure up just one.
After a few days of off-stage wrangling, it appeared that Hoyer had the votes to become the Democrats' number two in the minority and stave off the challenge from Clyburn.
But Pelosi knew she couldn't let Clyburn disappear and face the wrath of the Congressional Black Caucus.
So Pelosi contrived a new position: Assistant Leader. And so there would be no question where Clyburn fit in, Pelosi declared his gig would be "number three" in the Democratic leadership hierarchy.
But calling the position the "number three" yet officially bestowing it with the title of "Assistant Leader" sounds a lot like the number two position. When I spoke to a senior Democratic leadership aide about what appeared to be an "organizational chart" problem, I was told there was a problem with my organizational chart.
Almost immediately, CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) published a statement saying her membership stood behind Clyburn. But added that they were still mulling what the "number three" position entailed before standing behind it foursquare.
"The position actually isn't that rare," said incoming CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) of the new slot. "The Senate actually has the position. Sen. (Dick) Durbin (D-IL) has it."
And that's a problem.
In the Senate, Durbin is clearly the Democrats' number two, holding the Majority Whip post. But since the late 1960s, that position has officially been "Assistant Leader." But most on Capitol Hill still call it "whip."
So here's the organizational chart issue again. Thus, I pressed Cleaver on what he meant by comparing the new "Clyburn" position to the "number two" gig Durbin holds.
"We have gone through those some of those same questions," responded Cleaver, adding that there was "confusion."
When the British form governments, there is sometimes a figure with no specific responsibilities called "Minister without Portfolio." It's sometimes described as an effort to get a particular figure into cabinet meetings and grant them authority.
So many CBCers sought an audience with Pelosi to clarify Clyburn's portfolio. The CBC wanted to make sure the new job had teeth and wasn't an effete effort to placate African American lawmakers.
"This is not a black position. This is not like, the ‘Director of Black People,'" Cleaver said.
Cleaver added that Clyburn was "being given the latitude to make this into what he wants it to be. There were no lines drawn for trespassing."
So, even though Clyburn is the number three, it sounds like Pelosi is empowering him to freelance in a variety of areas of leadership. And some view that as a threat to Steny Hoyer. Pelosi may have provided more clarity on the Assistant Leader" position for Clyburn and the CBC. But it simultaneously muddied the waters about Hoyer's role.
In fact, when the Democrats formally unveiled their leadership team, Hoyer botched the title of Clyburn's new job, calling him "assistant to the leader." Hoyer quickly corrected himself and introduced his colleague as "Assistant Leader."
More than one reporter mused about whether this was a Freudian slip by Hoyer. And several leadership aides reminded scribes that this is the end result of what they described as the "Darwinian" nature of Nancy Pelosi, forcing Hoyer and Clyburn to duke it out among themselves to truly determine who has more power and the support of the Democratic Caucus.
But there's an easier way to figure this out.
To the victor goes the spoils. In other words, the majority party secures a bigger budget for staff, better Capitol Hill real estate and even security details from the U.S. Capitol Police for the top three leadership positions. Soon to be in the minority, Democrats will have to squeeze the resources they used for five leadership positions into what the Republicans had for four. Even though the Democrats are maintaining five jobs.
So watch closely how the Democrats divide up office space. Especially between Hoyer and Clyburn.
The office space question isn't lost on Hoyer.
"Those who are here will have first priority on seats in whatever small cubicle I may find myself," said Hoyer sardonically when he met with reporters last week.
Another factor to watch is whether Clyburn scores a security detail.
In the GOP minority, only current House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) receive official protection from the U.S. Capitol Police. As the number three in the majority, Clyburn enjoyed a security detail. But it remains to be seen if he will receive such protection as his party is demoted to the minority come January.
Another component of this is the "look" factor.
It's obvious that Democrats were mindful of how their leadership team "appears" to the public. Which speaks to their Herculean efforts to retain Clyburn and Becerra at the leadership table while simultaneously courting African American and Hispanic voters.
With Clyburn and Becerra around, Democrats could revel in the diversity of their leadership team, compared to the four white males at the top of the Republican leadership ladder. In the new Congress, Boehner will be Speaker, Cantor will be Majority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) graduates to Majority Whip and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) become GOP Conference Chairman.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) returns again as Vice Chair of the Republican Conference.
Republicans made it known weeks ago that one freshman would serve as special liaison to the GOP leadership.
Initially, Reps.-elect Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Scott (R-SC) were the only freshmen candidates seeking the leadership opportunity. Scott is one of two African American Republicans in the freshman class. 2011 marks the first time since early 2003 that there's been a black Republican in the House.
With Noem and Scott vying for the job, Republicans pulled a Connecticut General Assembly and announced freshmen would now have two positions at the leadership table. As it turns out, Noem and Scott won. Today the GOP has two women and an African American male complimenting the four white men at their top leadership rungs.
Scott dismissed suggestions that Republicans tapped him and Noem because they diversify the leadership slate.
"We really don't get into the quota system and set-asides," said Scott. "I think what you see here are two people who want to serve their class."
But the bigger issues involving leadership positions in the next Congress bedevils the Democrats.
"We are going to reserve seats at whatever room we may have," said Steny Hoyer when chatting with reporters who attended his weekly chat. "In the parking lot or wherever it is."
Hoyer's idea about meeting in the parking lot may be a good place to start. The signs marking parking spaces outside the Connecticut state house say a lot about which legislators are important.
Or who at least has an important sounding title.
- Fox's John Brandt contributed to this report.