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The Congressional Algae Caucus aims to focus on boosting research and development of algae, like this experiment at Arizona State University. Researchers believe algae could one day be used as a fuel, food and for other purposes. (Photo by Christy Little/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON -- Shipbuilding may not seem like a vital issue for arid, landlocked Arizona, but Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, joined the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus - along with 23 other caucuses and working groups.

He's not alone. When it comes to caucuses, Arizona lawmakers seem to err on the side of involvement, joining everything from better-known, more-active groups like the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to groups for things like songwriters and soccer.

On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, added the Congressional Algae Caucus to the list.

The caucus, co-chaired by Salmon and Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., will act as a forum for topics relating to the algae industry, including university research and high-tech jobs, according to a statement from their offices. Salmon said in the statement that his involvement in the caucus was meant to show support for the economic benefits of the emerging industry.

"High-tech jobs will help grow our economy and through this caucus, I hope to draw attention to the great economic and environmental benefits of algae production," Salmon said in a statement Wednesday.

The algae caucus is just the latest addition to a list of more than 250 such groups registered as "congressional member organizations" with the House Administration Committee. And that list is likely to grow as caucuses from previous sessions get around to re-registering for the 113th Congress.

Those 250 serve varied interests, including the Bourbon Caucus, the Cement Caucus, the Contaminated Drywall Caucus and the Rock and Roll Caucus.

Despite the apparently unusual nature of some caucuses, Rodolfo Espino, an assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University, said these groups are probably closer to the Founding Fathers' vision for Congress than political parties are.

Caucuses, working groups and coalitions create connections among representatives with similar views on certain issues, Espino said. They also allow members to show constituents that they are taking an active stance on certain issues. But they are not entirely for show, Espino said.

"It's going to be natural for groups of legislators to group together," Espino said.

Arizona representatives participate in their fair share of niche organizations, like the Small Brewers Caucus and the Soccer Caucus, in addition to influential groups like the Republican Study Committee and the Progressive Caucus.

Lawmakers often join a smaller, special-interest caucus because its topic is important to their district, said a spokeswoman for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff. Jennifer Johnson said, for example, that Kirkpatrick joined the Tennis Caucus because so many people in northern Arizona are physically active, and because the Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson is just outside the southern portion of her district and attracts visitors to the area.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, is involved in 77 caucuses, seven task forces and two coalitions, according to his website, including the Songwriters Caucus.

Many of these caucuses exist for more practical reasons, and others exist and a way of gathering like-minded members.

"Not every caucus is entirely political," said Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Grijalva. "Some of them are more social."

In some caucuses, Grijalva is particularly active, co-chairing the well-known Progressive Caucus, for example. But he does not need to make much of a commitment to the smaller groups, Sarvana said. Most of the minor caucuses only exist as an easy way to show support for a cause, Sarvana said.

"All it really boils down to is being on a mailing list," he said.

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