Legislators make career out of job

Published 12:31 am Wednesday, January 16, 2008

By Staff
Although our United States Congressmen are up for election every two years, they seldom are challenged. Incumbents win reelection at a 96 percent rate. Our founding fathers intended for the U.S. House of Representatives to reflect the changing mood of the country and for the House members to be reflective of the electorate in every way. They fully expected the average House member to stay a few terms, four to six years, in Washington and then go home. However, our U.S. House has become a bastion of career legislators whose tenure averages over two decades. Given the advantage of incumbency, if they win a seat a person can expect to retire there with little opposition.
There are 435 House seats set out by the Constitution. Each state is apportioned a number of seats based on its population. The number of congressional seats each state is awarded is announced after the U.S. Census is taken every decade. This is the primary reason the census is taken.
The next census will be taken in 2010. In January of 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau will tell each state how many seats they will be allotted. They will be given two years to reapportion their district lines which must embrace the same number of people. In the 1960s we had nine congressmen. Since the 1970s we have lost two of our seats. We currently have seven seats comprised of five republicans and two democrats.
We have a rare vacancy occurring in one of our seven seats this year. Second District Republican Terry Everett is retiring after sixteen years on the job. An avalanche of candidates are prepared to go for broke to win the coveted open seat. However, if they were wise they would make a simple call to the Census Bureau and ask them what the projection is for Alabama after the 2010 census. The preliminary figures indicate it is a good possibility we will lose a congressional seat in 2010.
Therefore, it is much ado about nothing. It is a fool's gold. They are running for a seat that probably is not going to be in existence in three years. At best they will serve four years in that seat, but by 2012 it will have flown to California, Texas, Florida, or Atlanta, Georgia.
There are three or four successful businesspeople living in this southeast Alabama district that are contemplating spending a million dollars or more to win the seat. However, they need to be forewarned that they are spending $1 million to $2 million to buy a seat in congress for only four years.
This scenario reminds me of a great political comedy entitled, Distinguished Gentleman. I highly recommend this satirical movie on congress. The star is Eddie Murphy. When a longtime Florida Congressman named Jeff Johnson dies unexpectedly, Murphy, having the same name, runs and wins the vacant seat.
The movie illustrates that congressional seats are nothing more than name identification contests. This is why the incumbent always wins. Therefore, the winner of this race will be the republican who spends the most money. It does not matter if the person is from Montgomery, Dothan, or Smuteye. It is a money race. Hopefully the person who puts a couple of million of their own money into the pot to buy the seat will not be using their mortgage money or betting the family farm because they are going to be back on the farm in four years and a millionaire from Orlando or Atlanta will be sitting in that seat.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist. He can be reached at www.steveflowrs.us.