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Archive for Saturday, March 2, 2002

An incumbent is hard to beat

March 2, 2002

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By Bill Ferguson
Warner Robins (Ga.) Daily Sun

One of the things that puzzles me the most about our system of government is why voters keep sending the same clowns back into office while constantly complaining about how poorly represented they are. Unseating an incumbent, especially one at the state or local level who has been in office for a long time, is among the most difficult challenges a human being can undertake.

This is an election year, and even though I have heard more than the usual share of grumbling about how poorly their current crop of representatives have served them in the last few years, I'll bet we see very little turnover.

The question is why do we do it? Why can't we get some new blood into government when deep down most of us realize that it is badly needed?

There is no simple answer, but I think part of it has to do with the perception that an entrenched incumbent (especially one who belongs to the majority party) wields a certain amount of power and that his constituents indirectly share in that power. And those constituents are loath to relinquish that power to a fresh face.

Of course, when you talk about power in politics you are really talking about money. Everybody wants their share of the pork when the big pig gets sliced up every year and the good old boys and girls who have served their time and worked their way up to important committee positions always get the biggest cuts, while the junior members get the crumbs that fall from the table (if they are lucky.)

And we as taxpayers want to make sure that our communities get their fair share of the goodies. If that means continuing to re-elect someone they really don't care for, most voters feel that it is a tradeoff they have to make to preserve their interests.

So how could we improve the situation? Obviously our current system allows certain individuals to accrue too much influence over how public money is spent, and we need to find a way to flatten the power structure so that entrenched incumbents aren't allowed to divide up our tax money at their whim.

The idea of term limits immediately comes to mind and deserves consideration. Another possibility would be to limit the amount of time any individual could serve on the powerful committees that set the legislative agenda in particular areas of interest. If committee memberships were evenly distributed among all representatives and members were regularly rotated on and off committees, it would prevent any individual from being able to bend the committee to his will year after year.

Best of all (and this is also why it would be such a hard sell to legislators in the majority party) a flatter, less permanent method of doling out committee assignments would prevent the minority party from being sidelined in the legislative process as they are now.

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