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Editorial: Brian Higgins’ opportunity in new Democratic Congress

The whirlwind that was Tuesday’s elections reshaped the landscape of Western New York’s congressional representation. It’s the same cast of characters, but its members have new assignments: For starters, Democrat Brian Higgins will be in the majority, magnifying his influence on two committees.

Meanwhile, Republicans Chris Collins and Tom Reed will be cast into the minority. There, Reed and his Problem Solvers caucus will have a chance to be the tail that usefully wags the dog, while Collins, under federal indictment on charges of insider trading, is about to become an even lonelier, even less effective member of Congress.

Higgins’ re-election to his 26th District seat was never in doubt, but with Democrats gaining at least 27 seats, his victory gives him the opportunity to do more for Western New York than he has in any of his seven terms in Congress.

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, with rising seniority, Higgins will wield influence over fundamental matters such as taxes, tariffs, Medicare and Social Security. Should he also remain on the Budget Committee, he will have a prominent role over decisions on spending, an assignment that could work to Buffalo’s benefit.

The question that hovers over his eighth term is whether he will pay a political price for opposing Nancy Pelosi’s likely ascent to the speaker’s chair. Over that question, oddly enough, Reed may hold some influence.

The Southern Tier congressman won re-election to his seat in the 23rd District in an unexpectedly spirited race. He campaigned on a promise to help restore a more collaborative chamber, pledging that the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus would withhold support for any speaker candidate of either party unless that person agreed to back rule changes opening the chamber to greater debate.

In truth, the Problem Solvers haven’t solved many problems, but Reed has put his standing on the line. “I’m all in,” on changing the tone of the House, he said last month. That will be the test of his commitment and his influence over the coming weeks and months – and it’s pass or fail. New Yorkers have to hope he is as good as his word.

And then there’s Collins, the indicted, re-elected congressman from the 27th District, whose poor representation is about to get poorer. Not only is Collins headed for the House minority, but even other Republicans are all but sure to keep their distance. They know a time bomb when they hear it ticking.

For up to 15 months – Collins’ trial on insider trading charges won’t take place until February 2020 – he will be toxic and unable to do much of anything for either the district or the country. Perhaps, though, he can commiserate with a West Coast confederate, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, another Republican re-elected despite federal criminal charges, in his case on allegations that he and his wife used campaign funds for personal purposes, including lavish vacations.

Oh, well. It’s only the United States Congress.