Just a little bit of action on the political front this week. While the majority of the nation was relieved to see the siege of Capitol Hill contained, those of us in Georgia were just as relieved and doubly grateful the 2020 election cycle had finally come to an end. The Senate elections were extremely close, but thankfully we won’t have to go to the polls again. Being the center of attention gets tiring.
When the dust settles, the Democrats will hold a very slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. And pending the official certification of Peach State votes, the Senate will be split 50/50. (That, of course, puts the Democrats technically in the majority by virtue of ties being broken by the incoming Vice President, Kamala Harris.)
Given those eventualities, the mantra for every member in both Houses of Congress from both political parties is this: Stay healthy and stay in place! The numbers are too easily tipped one way or the other. Suppose, for example, something like a rogue coronavirus comes along from, say, China, and several Members of Congress take ill and can’t fulfill their Constitutional duties. (Like that could EVER happen, right?) It would only take a special election or two or an equally small number of appointed Senators to cause upheaval and consternation within the leadership of the Legislative Branch.
There is a plus side to skin-of-the-teeth majorities. They can actually make for compromise a whole lot better than overwhelming numbers by one party. Sometimes it’s actually necessary to talk to the “other guys” in order to get a piece of legislation passed. Imagine that. Quite the opposite is true, of course, when one party holds a substantial number of seats. A former congressman of my acquaintance was a member of the House back in 1965/66 after Lyndon Johnson swamped Barry Goldwater at the polls in 1964 and swept huge numbers of Democrats with him into office.
As a result, the Congressman, who happened to be in the minority said, “They didn’t need us for anything. A lot of the time, the Chairmen of the committees I served on wouldn’t even bother to let me know they were meeting.” (Yes, the Chairs were all men then.)
Hopefully, everyone duly elected in this Congress will remain hale and hearty. But sometimes other things happen. Scandals ensue and resignations may result. (Current example might be California Congressman Eric Swalwell and his reported dalliances with a Chinese spy.) Elected officials are lured into other positions. (It might be an Ambassadorship or even a post in the private sector that offers a substantial raise over a public salary.) And, alas, some do die in office. (A newly-elected Congressman from Louisiana didn’t even get the chance to take his oath. He passed away from Covid-19 in December.)
Those scenarios create vacancies, and outcomes of new elections are never foregone conclusions. When a Congressional seat becomes vacant, the usual procedure is to hold a special election, with the winner holding the seat until the next general election. But there’s no guarantee the replacement representative will be a member of the same party as the departed one.
Senate seats are different. As you probably know, empty Senate seats are usually filled by appointment from the Governor of the affected state. But senators and governors can definitely be members of different political parties. The Governor is under no mandate to appoint a Senator who shared the outgoing member’s party affiliation. Thus, if a Republican Senator is no longer able to fulfill his/her duties, a Democrat Governor has the option to appoint a Democrat. And vice versa.
So, what happens if filled vacancies flip-flop the majority midway through a two-year Congressional session? Is there a new election for Speaker of the House? A new Senate Majority Leader? What happens if there’s a second flip-flop? Especially in the Senate. More than a few of those solons aren’t spring chickens.
Should Congress devolve into revolving-door leadership, how in the world would it get anything done? (I know, I know. It doesn’t get anything done now.) Perhaps there’s finally room for a third political party in the U.S. I’ve proposed the Common Sense Party in this space before. Do you think the time has finally come? Anybody else want to join me? Hey, with enough members, we could be the deciding factor on just about everything. And it might actually be good for the country. (Okay, it probably won’t happen. But it’s always fun to dream.)
©MMXXI. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer