Between the local and national news, print and social media, we are constantly bombarded with opinions on our country's politicians. These opinions range between judgement on specific legislation, general support of certain causes or special interests, and on a very personal level. I cannot help but say that some of these opinions are warranted. After all, when an individual makes the conscious decision to enter the public arena, they need to expect and embrace the dissent that is sure to follow.
I think it is fair to say that the general public has become jaded as to the motivations of individuals who enter politics. If we were to take a scientific poll and ask people why we think people (in general) enter politics I would bet that "to help the general public" would rank behind such options as "personal financial gain", "gain influence" or "ego". If my assumption is at least reasonable, than why would anyone ever vote for anyone?
This is where we need to use some self-reflection. We can talk about special interests and lobbyists buying influence and we can point to a biased media... pick your excuse. Have you ever thought that the electorate, or you and me, have the ultimate say if we would only consistently participate in the elective process? All we have to do is look at the voting trends from last years elections to understand why certain politicians have gained the power they have.
In the 2012 elections, all 435 House seats were contested. There were 42 incumbents who retired, leaving 393 seats to be contested by incumbents.
- 13 incumbents were defeated in the primary elections.
- 22 incumbents were defeated in the general election, 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
That makes for 358 incumbents reelected of the 393 who were running (or 35 House incumbent losses, depending on how you want to look at it), making a reelection rate for 2012 of 91%. This is about 2% lower than the historical average since 1954.
In the 2012 elections, 33 U.S. Senate seats were contested. Ten of these were open seats due to incumbent retirements. That leaves 23 seats that an incumbent contested. One incumbent was defeated in the primaries: Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana. One incumbent lost the general election: Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts. All other incumbents were reelected.
That makes 21 of 23 incumbents reelected to the Senate in the 2012 election, (or 2 incumbent Senate losses, depending on your perspective), making for a 2012 Senate reelection rate of 91%. This is slightly higher than historical standards (where the average is right around 85% for the Senate), but not out of the ordinary.
By my quick tabulations, New York State Election Results:
127 incumbent members were re-elected
2 incumbent members lost
21 member were elected to open seats
53 incumbent members were re-elected
1 incumbent members lost
8 member were elected to open seats
I could go into the details about the political careers of politicians like Joe Bruno, Michael McNulty, Ron Canesterari, Henery Zwack and Steve Dworsky... but that is not my point. We, the electorate, continue to put these people back in power. As each year and each successive election passes, we create future generations of supporters who blindly support certain politicians and/or parties only because these were our parents choices. Yet we disagree with something an elected official does and heap the blame on them or their party only to re-elect them the very next election.
Allow me to kick aside my soapbox for a moment and issue a challenge to anyone who reads this blog... listen, think, apply critical analysis and then judge. Voice your approval or disapproval, but don't forget about it when the next election cycle rolls around. The incumbent politician does not fear the general public... they have proven this by and large by their behaviors and actions while in office. Politicians fear the media (negative press) and lobbyists. You want to see an incumbent politician jump, give him or her some negative press or send your contributions to his or her opponent.
The statistics above say everything that needs to be said. The one statistic that I didn't show but is the saddest of all is overall voter turnout. It is an outright embarrassment as a nation to see the number of voters seems to shrink every year.Why do you ask? Apathy, lack of a real alternative? Neither are an excuse. I always enjoy the Wednesday after the election when people who didn't vote have the nerve to state their opinion on the outcome of the elections. That, to me, is the height of hypocrisy. the one thing we have that isn't bought and sold by MOST politicians or special interests in your vote. Why do you think so many politician risk their careers to steal votes? I believe if more people took a personal interest in their privilege and obligation to vote, I believe voter fraud situations will virtually disappear.
I am a stronger advocate of a multi-party system now than I have ever been in my life. It is the biggest farce in politics to believe or to say that the Independence Party is independent! The same can be said for the Conservative, Liberal, Green and Working Families Parties as well. One of the biggest turnoffs of any alternate party affiliation is its direct ties to either of the major parties. I believe that the time is right for a rise of a true political revolution. The Tea Party, philosophy aside, has fired a shot over the bow of the two-party system nationally, but additional, more independent parties are needed to see a real impact.
So, what is the alternative? Short term, I believe we need to show politicians that incumbency is not a free ticket. It is time we send career politicians back out into the "real world" wrought with regular work hours, barely affordable medical insurance, a reliance on a up and down stock market for their retirement, and a future of social security and medicare reliance. You see, entrenched politicians are insulated from the "real world" and the ONLY way to reacquaint them with the "real world" it you return them back to it.
Term limits are not the answer either because if we held elected officials responsible for their actions (or non-action), we would limit their time in office through the ballot box. So, next time you feel the need to attack an elected official for their actions, use that energy to participate in the process and send them packing. Remember, any politician's future rests in the vote of their constituents, in other words, you and me. Every movement starts somewhere. It may be an event, a group of people, or an individual that lights that fire... but it needs a spark! What side of history will you be on? Are you a spectator or are you a participant? Happy Reading!