Greetings from Mt. Vernon, Virginia! Having spent many years working for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, I am thrilled to see several Federalist Papers devoted to the subject of the U.S. House.
Unfortunately, Congress as an institution and the people who serve there are suffering from a negative public perception. As with any group of people, there are a few who deserve the public’s disdain. And there are others who may not be re-elected this November because they have not carried out their constituents’ will. But based on my experience of working first hand with many of these men and women, I have developed the highest respect for the institution of the U.S. House, and for most of those elected from their congressional districts to serve, Republicans and Democrats.
The founders designed the U.S. House of Representatives to be close to the people:
“As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.”
Publius argues that an election every two years is frequent enough to maintain the people’s liberty:
“I conceive it to be a very substantial proof,that the liberties of the people can be in no danger from BIENNIAL elections.”
This is true, as long as the people uphold their duty articulated in Federalist No. 33, to “take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”
Elections every two years keep members of Congress close to their constituents. There are extended breaks from votes during January, February, April, July, August, September, and Congress usually breaks for good anywhere from mid-October in election years to mid-November or mid-December in the off years. During these breaks, most Members of Congress go back to their districts, hold town meetings and other forums, and work hard to meet with their constituents and listen to them.
We have all seen the video footage from town meetings of Congressmen or women who appear to be disengaged, uniformed, hostile to their constituents, or out of touch, especially during the health care debate. From my experience, these members of Congress are the exception, rather than the rule.
Most members of the U.S. House, of both parties, are well informed, hard working individuals who deeply love their country and sacrifice a great deal to serve the people of their congressional district. Most keep their families in their congressional district, and are in Washington only when they have to be, flying in to vote Tuesday through Thursday, and back home Thursday evenings to spend Friday through Monday working in their congressional district.
Most members of Congress are very accessible to their constituents. Any citizen may “walk the halls,” of Congress, and stop in at their U.S. Representative’s office, or any U.S. Representative’s office, often getting to at least say hello to the member of Congress, even without an appointment, if they are willing to wait. And if they request a meeting with enough lead time, most people who want to have a sit down meeting with their member of Congress are usually able to get one scheduled. Janine, Juliette and I walked the halls of Congress recently, and met with Congressman Scott Garrett, Chairman of the Congressional Constitution Caucus, and Congresswomen Blackburn and Bachmann. We even met with Senator Scott Brown on the Senate side! We witnessed all taking the time to say hello to visiting constituents while we were there.
Members of Congress also maintain offices and staffs in their congressional district, whose sole purpose is to serve the constituents, untangling them from governmental red tape, facilitating military academy appointments, and participating with citizens in the community on local projects.
It is understandable that people are frustrated and angry when Congress passes a bill so large no one can read it, with provisions that go against the U.S. Constitution and our founding principles of limited government and free enterprise. But that is where elections every two years come into play. It is the people’s responsibility to make their views known, and the most effective way to do that, is on election day.
In 1994, and in 2006, the people’s voice was heard. Despite gerrymandering (which I agree with Jon and Professor Rowley, is a terrible modern day development) control of the U.S. House shifted, because the people were unhappy.
As we have said many times on these pages before, knowledge is power. Before you judge your member of Congress, get to know him or her, or at least try! Find out their voting record, their attendance record. Do they hold town meetings? If so, attend! Ask a question. Send an email. Write a letter. Request a meeting. Sit down with their congressional district staff. You may be surprised to find out how hard your member of Congress is actually working for you, or you may have your worst suspicions confirmed, and decide a change is needed.
“The definition of the right of suffrage is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government.”
Let’s use that powerful tool granted to us by the Constitution!
Thank you to all of you for your continued participation, and your insightful comments.
Good night and God Bless,
Thursday, July 8th, 2010