The other night, Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) was soundly defeated in his primary by Virginia citizen David Brat. The punditosphere proceeded to navel gaze and read the tea leaves as it is not everyday, or even every primary, in which an incumbent, let alone a high profile politician gets primaried.
One can wax philosophical as to why Mr. Cantor fell to Dr. Brat. Libertarians feel Republicans start drinking the big guv’mint Kool-Aid if they’re in Washington too long (especially if they’re in leadership). Others blame his stances on immigration, spending, big business and diluting the STOCK act.
However, FoG* Scott O. a.k.a. (@gscottoliver) nails it:
The @Gormogons GP is right. The reason for Cantor’s defeat is simple. He no longer represented the Republicans in his district.
— ScottO the Intrepid (@gscottoliver) June 11, 2014
In other words, Mr. Cantor changed in his time in Washington, and given his prominent role in the House, he was highly visible. In Dr. J.’s opinion, he, and much of the GOP leadership have been a letdown since 2010. As President Obama’s tenure can be described as putting the foot on the accelerator as he’s driving the car off the cliff, the House Republicans can be seen as wanting to turn the car around but too scared to do more than ask for the President to slow the car down. Even then, he and his people yell at them for that, and they back down, other than Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and a few firebrand congressmen and women.
Your Gormogons can sit and debate what a RINO consists of, and when standing principle is ridiculous posturing, but ultimately with regard to Cantor, his district is no longer happy with him and called him home for someone they thought would do a better job.
Dr. J. sees this as a good thing because, when this nation was founded, serving in Washington was done with reluctant obligation. Since that time, it’s evolved into a career. When our politicians have been in D.C. too long they feel like they’re entitled to keeping that job, and left and right, we have a political class that’s evolving(ed?) into an oligarchy. This is because while Congress has an 11% approval rating, our congressmen has a 50%+ 1 vote approval rating or greater. Frankly, we, the voters keep sending them back.
The politicians realize this, and will either subtly, or blatantly change the rules such that it helps to keep them in their positions of power. A lot of the campaign finance shenanigans and free speech legislation of late fall into the category of incumbency protection legislation. Even quite a bit of redistricting is done in a manner that protects incumbents, even for the party out of power. This backfired on Cantor where his new right flank helped to take him out.
This isn’t just going on at the congressional level. Here in New Atlantis, term limits were voted in for our Metro Council a while back. One is limited to two terms as a councilperson and then two terms as an ‘at large’ councilperson if they’re lucky. The term limits were put in in 1994, and extending them has been rejected twice by voters. Furthermore, our Metro Council is fairly large with 35 district members and 5 at-large members. Each district consists of about 17,000 constituents. Indeed, all five at-large members were re-elected last go around.
Now, second term councilwoman Emily Evans is trying to keep her job. She’s proposing to add a third term to the term limits with the ‘trade-off’ of shrinking the size of the legislature to 27 seats (24 regular and 3 at-large). This is a false trade. She’s proposing this expressing concern that there is not enough institutional memory with 8 year turnover of council persons, even though there are 5 at large members who have all come from district seats (ultimately giving them 12 and even 16 years experience at the time of their ultimate departure).
Dr. J. thinks that this proposal dilutes democracy and participatory government. With a large Metro Council, one councilperson represents 17,000 voters. Dr. J.’s council person is an email or Facebook post away. With the law change, they would represent 24,000 voters. Honestly, it makes it harder for constituents to know their councilperson and their councilperson to genuinely be held accountable to the voters interests because as the districts grow in physical size, diverse neighborhoods with different interests can be ignored or played off of each other. Furthermore, for an ambitious politician, a third term plus a well played game of musical chairs cuts her competition down. As the firebrand who ‘in the name of sensible government’ shrunk big government (i.e. the large Metro Council) she would have name recognition for a run at an at-large seat. After two terms of that she would be strategically poised for Vice Mayor and/or Mayor with less competition on the board than without the changes. It’s an exquisitely thought out long game that the most erstwhile Bene Gesserit or Sith Lord would be proud of.
Dr. J. holds no malice towards Mrs. Evans. Indeed, she’s done a good job, as far as councilpersons go, and has been fiscally shrewder than the good Mayor. She knows her way around money, real estate and zoning and has earned her keep for sure. She is probably acting in what she feels is in the public’s best interest, namely experienced legislators like herself, the fact that it would benefit her career is an added bonus for her.
Despite her beliefs, Dr. J. can honestly say, there are more than a handful of intelligent, engaged individuals who can step in and replace each and every one of these local legislators from any given district. All of them are pretty much replaceable, even if they don’t think so. The benches are very deep in the more affluent districts as well. And that’s to the point. Mrs. Evans doesn’t think she and her colleagues are replaceable. Furthermore, in our current model of democracy, the sheeple, based on re-election patterns tend to agree with her. The hope, that Dr. J. sees, is that they tend to uniformly reject incumbency protection referenda.
While Dr. J. feels that an informed and participating citizenry is a better solution than term limits, he feels that until that occurs, term limits is the lesser of two evils. They should remain in New Atlantis, and be imposed on Washington. Smart primarying (not reflexive primarying) of current legislators in safe districts once they show signs of district-drift is a great start.
Congratulations, once again to Dr. Brat!