WASHINGTON (CNN) - California Rep. Henry Waxman won the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday, defeating the longtime chairman, John Dingell of Michigan, in a secret ballot vote of the incoming Democratic caucus.
Waxman - first elected to the House in 1974 - defeated Dingell - first elected in 1955 - by a vote of 137 to 122. Dingell has served as the Energy and Commerce Committee's top Democrat for the past 28 years. Waxman was the committee's No. 2 ranking Democrat.
"It was a contentious race, and it was a close one as well," Waxmam said immediately following the vote. "I want to point out... that this in no way diminishes the enormous contribution to our country by Chairman John Dingell." Waxman, a top ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, argued that "we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration... in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection and energy policy."
Regarding Dingell's long tenure in the House and on the committee, Waxman said, "seniority is important, but it should not be a grant of property rights to be chairman for three decades or more."