So just who, exactly, do our 9 incumbents represent?

Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In three months, we Maryland voters have the option of re-electing or replacing all 8 of our Representatives and one of our Senators. Elections being a really big deal, I thought it appropriate to ask myself, “To what extent is it necessary for someone to be representative of the people who elected him or her in order to represent them?”

Congressman Ruppersberger, for example, runs a video on his campaign website that shows some ordinary people from his District, the gist of which is that “Dutch,” as he likes to be called, “is one of us.” It’s a common claim by candidates that makes the argument that you need to be “one of us” to represent us in Washington. Really?

Here’s a list of our incumbents. Hmm? Let’s see. Well, for one thing, there’s only 1 woman (Donna Edwards) in the group, which is only a problem if you believe that gender is an important factor in representing a people, fully half of which are female.

Maryland Incumbents Table

Two of the 9 are black Americans (Ms. Edwards and Mr. Cummings). No Hispanics.

The youngest (John Sarbanes) is 50. Five of the 9 are over 60. Two over 70, one of which (Roscoe Bartlett) is 86. Impressive. Mind you, I’m looking forward to being 86 myself someday, but is this group representative, can they really identify with the portion of our electorate that’s younger than 50?

Two of the 9 are Republicans, in a state where a third of the electorate is Republican. Close enough.

What else? Oh, gee whiz, I almost forget the obvious. Look at what they do for a living. Seven of the 9 are attorneys. One is a doctor (Dr. Harris) and the other (Dr. Bartlett) has a Ph.D. in Physiology, but also claims to be a farmer.

It’s well known that attorneys are prevalent in Congress, constituting over half of the Senate and more than a third of the House. Makes sense. Legislation is, after all, about the making of law. Law is what lawyers do. All 9 are highly educated and that, I guess, makes them more qualified to create the law that defines government support for economic recovery, health care, education and other really important stuff – that they may or may not know anything about.

Maryland’s Congressmen/women and Senators currently make $174,000 per year, plus benefits including some really excellent health care insurance. They represent a state were most people are not attorneys or other professionals with doctoral degrees, a state where median household income is remarkably high, just under $70,000. Round numbers, our representatives we’ve sent to Washington make at least 2.5 times as much as half the people they represent.

These 9 incumbents may represent us, but they are certainly not representative of us. Is that a problem? It certainly hasn’t been, judging from how many times Marylanders have voted for most of these incumbents, but maybe it should be. Maybe our Representatives and Senators would be more interested in solving problems than sparring about them if they knew firsthand what the ordinary people in their videos are up against on a daily basis.

In 1821, a politician wrote in his autobiography, “If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?” Sure, but then exactly who was this guy, Thomas Jefferson, and what did he know?

-Next Contestant

Also published today in on-line and print editions of The Gazette for Politics and Business.

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