At least every other day, it seems there’s an announcement from a Member of Congress stating that he/she will not be running for re-election this year. Both sides of the aisle are experiencing this exodus, although Republicans, I believe, are in the lead on most scorecards. Even though Orrin Hatch from Utah, who has been in the Senate seemingly since it was first organized, is among this number of retirees, most are coming from the ranks of those who have only been in the House of Representatives for three or four terms. (Coincidentally, of course, that’s enough time to qualify them for a nice federal pension.)
With many leaving office, the vacancies will allow a plethora of opportunities for more citizens to throw their hats into their local political ring and seek to become delegates of the people. Given the divisiveness rampant in the nation and certainly in the Congress these days, it will be interesting to watch as a new crop of public servants occupies suites in Washington in the coming years. My guess is most, if not all, will follow what is becoming a predictable pattern.
Stage One: Firebrand. It’s often a single issue that lights the spark beneath someone’s desire to change the status quo. Women’s rights, gun control, illegal immigration, and/or government spending are just a few items of interest in today’s world that might stir the passion and goad an aspirant into taking action. A rising groundswell of support from friends, neighbors, and other like-minded community members results in money raised, signs printed, websites created, primaries won, and a band on election night playing Happy Days Are Here Again while revelers wear red, white, and blue and celebrate with abandon.
Stage Two: Settler. It’s not unusual for one or two key campaign workers, usually younger members of the candidate’s entourage, to land jobs in the new Congressperson’s office in Washington, D.C. Very quickly, however, the inexperienced legislator becomes acutely aware that hiring some wily veterans on the Hill is essential. Contacts are crucial if the grunt work of the office is to be conducted smoothly. Constituent passport, Social Security, and veterans’ issues (among others) tend to fill up the time of many staffers, and it really helps to have people who know people and can navigate the treacherous waters that make up the vast federal bureaucracy. (Perhaps more importantly, they also know where the restrooms are located.)
Stage Three: Money. After about a week of Party indoctrination, official photos, a swearing-in ceremony, and perhaps a maiden speech (exhorting fellow officeholders to help with one’s hot-button issue), the reality of fund-raising sets in. House of Representative terms are only two years long, and, as the newbies have just learned, it takes a lot of cash to run a campaign. So money has to flow into the re-election coffers immediately and continuously for a new battle that will probably begin about 18 months after arriving on Capitol Hill.
Stage Four: Reality. In short order, everyone from the Party leadership gurus to industry lobbyists and big donors to everyday constituents is knocking on the door demanding time and making “suggestions.” These propositions can take the form of new legislation to be introduced, favors, or quid pro quos in multiple disguises. (See Money.) Even fellow Congresspersons, from veterans to savvy rookies, want to trade votes for respective pet issues.
Stage Five: Compromise. It’s a despised word in today’s atmosphere, but still in vogue behind the scenes. Because one person’s passion is another’s anathema, not much stands a chance of passage in an unadulterated state. The 12-year-old bottle of Scotch is going to have to be cut with soda water if it’s to be palatable to the majority of fellow solons.
Stage Six: Surrender. After several years of doing battle with the loyal opposition, maybe convincing a committee to hold hearings about near and dear ideas, traveling back home every weekend, listening to complaints and even more “suggestions” from the masses, missing important family milestones, and realizing all efforts and good intentions really haven’t made much, if any, difference, retirement looks pretty inviting. Especially with that pension and a private sector job that pays three times as much waiting. Plus the title “The Honorable” now precedes one’s name forever.
As a friend of mine recently reminded me, a quote which perhaps erroneously has been attributed to John Adams may have it right: “In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.”
©MMXVIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer in Atlanta