Tag Archives: congress

Don’t average voters deserve a little representation?

Here’s the thing about Rep. Robert Hurt: he’s a perfectly average congressman.

It’s tough to campaign against average. There’s a reason why just a shade less than 100% of Congressmen seeking reelection are successful: they keep their mouths shut and try not to do anything, while their staff dutifully arranges tours of the Capitol, mails out American flags, and expedites agency responses to constituents’ requests.

Hurt is one of these congressman. In his first two years in office, he has passed no legislation, and introduced just four bills. He’s cast no brave votes. He’s taken no principled stands. He’s a standard nobody freshman, and as long as he remains in congress, he will continue to be a nobody in congress. He’s not a major figure in the district, certainly not nearly as visible as past congressmen. I’ll wager that there’s a solid majority of congress who could not pick him out of a two-man lineup.

(Keep in mind, being a nobody in congress still makes you a congressman. There are a few hundred nobodies in congress. It’s perfectly ordinary.)

The other day I got a slick, two-page mailer from Hurt—paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia—and nowhere on it does he mention that he’s a Republican. An informed voter would probably figure out that he’s a Republican, based on some of his positions, but a lot of people would have no idea. That’s the point.

Hurt stands in sharp contrast to our last two congressmen: Virgil H. Goode (D/I/R/C) and Tom Perriello (D). Like ‘em or not, nobody could doubt where these guys stood.

Goode was firmly against NAFTA, Muslims, the United Nations, and Mexican restaurants displaying the Mexican flag. He made national headlines on a few occasions, none for reasons that made the district look particularly good, but most of which I’ll wager he was proud of. Goode routinely took unpopular positions, and his legislative priorities were either bold or Quixotesque, depending on one’s perspective.

Perriello distinguished himself by being quantifiably the hardest-working member of Congress, holding more town hall meetings with constituents than any other member. He met with thousands of constituents to discuss healthcare reform, ultimately becoming a notably important vote in favor of the Obama administration’s overhaul. Perriello suspected that his vote would cost him his seat, and he was right—he was one of a handful of freshman Democrats across the U.S. who were unseated in 2010, losses that were attributed widely to backlash over healthcare reform. Casting that vote, knowing that it would cost him his seat, is the very definition of taking a principled stand, regardless of what one thinks of healthcare reform. Perriello introduced 23 bills in the same amount of time in which Hurt introduced four, with seven passing the House (three resolutions, four bills) and one (the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act) passing into law.

Hurt has distinguished himself among this trio by doing absolutely nothing to distinguish himself.

You’ve got to feel for…Douglass? Is that name of the Democratic nominee? I truly cannot remember the name of the nominee. (I looked it up—yup, it’s John Douglass.) He’s got no purchase on Hurt. Sure, he can run against Hurt as a generic Republican, and that’s what he appears to be doing. This is effective in a wave election, or a demographic-shifting redistricting. but there’s no sign of the former and the latter does not describe last year’s redistricting, which did turn the Fifth District into a sociogeographically bizarre district, but it became only more conservative. Hurt was nominated two years ago by virtue of being the sole non-Tea-Party-aligned candidate, so he can’t even be tied to that fringe group’s fading fortunes.

President Obama has been rising in the polls in Virginia and nationally, and it’s certainly not impossible that he’ll win by the same landslide electoral college margin that he won in 2008. If that’s the case, it’s likewise not impossible that he’d bring Douglass along with him, if only because independents turned off by Mitt Romney’s incompetent campaign decide to toss in for some other Democrats as long as they’re in the booth.

Short of such an event, it’s tough to see how Hurt loses his seat any time soon. He’s got a district that was tailored to him and he’s unlikely to ever do anything interesting. Inertia is a powerful thing.

Why the USPS is running out of money.

I thought that the USPS was in financial trouble because they’d over-promised pensions. Nope. It turns out that a law passed by Congress in 2006 requires the USPS to save up enough money to pay 100% of their pension obligations for the next 75 years by 2016. That’s unheard of. So why require that? To break the back of the USPS union. The same law prohibits the USPS from engaging in any business activity other than strictly postal services, so they can’t even innovate their way out of this. 

House Republicans are looking to bring back the earmark.

Quiet discussions are beginning, behind closed doors, about bringing back earmarks. Why? Because legislators can’t pass spending bills on their own merits. In order to get 218 votes, they need to festoon bills with funding for congressmen’s pet projects. It’s easy for legislators cast spending as “wasteful spending” if it doesn’t funnel money directly into their district. (Funny how billions in “wasteful spending” are rendered non-wasteful with a few million well-targeted dollars.) I think earmarks can be made acceptable, with plenty of transparency in both the process and the allocated funding. 

Links for November 30th

  • Christian Science Monitor: Way cleared for horse slaughter to resume in US after 5-year ban
    Congress has passed a bill, and the president has signed it into law, that re-legalizes the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Banning that practice was a huge mistake, for reasons that were obvious at the time, but it took a five-year ban to show that to be so. Even PETA supports the change. The problem was that horses were either being abandoned to starve to death or shipped in crowded trailers to Canada or Mexico, where they were slaughtered (under terrible conditions in Mexico) and their meat sent back to the U.S. It actually increased animal suffering. Good for Congress for making a necessary—sure to be unpopular—change in the law.
  • ACLU of Virginia: Norfolk Man Who Refused to Stop Videotaping Police at Demonstration Is Not Guilty of Disorderly Conduct
    A Norfolk man was charged with disorderly conduct for videotaping an on-duty police officer back in April. I'm glad to see that he's been found not guilty by a Norfolk General District Court judge. There's been a strange rash of arrests, all around the country, for the non-existent crime of videotaping police officers. Decisions like this will help bring this to an end.
  • Print Free Graph Paper
    Just what it says on the tin.
  • Wikipedia: Point Roberts, Washington
    A tiny exclave of the United States is found off the coast of Washington State. "Point Bob," as it's known, is the southernmost tip of a Canadian peninsula, which extends just barely south of the 49th parallel that defines the U.S./Canadian border. To get there by land, one must go through two international border crossings. There are just over 600 households there, and one elementary school. After third grade, kids have to take a bus through Canada and back to the U.S. to get to school.

Links for September 27th

  • Mediaite: AP Reporter Responds To Chris Hayes Panel Debate On Racism Of Droppin’ G’s From Obama Speech
    There's some fussing about how an AP reporter transcribed a quote from President Obama. In a recent speech, the president said: "Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’." On one of those sunday morning shouting shows, the reporter was declared to be racist for doing so. Ridiculous. Anybody who saw or heard the president's remarks knows full well that this was a deliberately affected speaking style. To transcribe his remarks with the "g" would have whitewashed his speech while altering his remarks. This is not a matter of transcribing a dialect paternally, but instead attempting to convey his remarks accurately.
  • National Arbitration Forum: Ms. Stefani Germanotta v. oranges arecool XD
    This is a really interesting decision that resulted from an ICANN complaint that Germanotta filed against a Lady Gaga fan site, ladygaga.org, demanding that the fan turn over the domain name. Though there are a lot of facts that led to their conclusion, the mediators found in favor of the fan, finding that the site was run in good faith, there was no substantial likelihood of confusion with the official site, and that Germanotta doesn't appear to be having any trouble promoting herself.
  • Sunlight Labs: House Revamps Floor Feed
    The U.S. House has made some great changes to their legislative data service. The U.S. Senate remains in the stone age.

Links for September 6th

  • ThinkProgress: The Conservative Recovery Teeters Into Recession
    17,000 new jobs were created by the private sector last month. 17,000 jobs were eliminated by the public sector last month. Bummed by last month's flatlining of job growth? Thank a congressman.
  • New York Times: Rep. Shelley Berkley’s Cause Is Often Her Husband’s Gain
    She's a strong supporter of (admittedly much-needed) better funding of kidney-care facilities. He's making a fortune on it as a nephrologist. If you ask her, it's just the darnedest coincidence. If you ask an ethicist, it's just plain wrong.
  • List of Virginia Caves
    The most extensive cave system in Virginia is Butler-Sinking Creek, in Bath County, at seventeen miles of total passages. The deepest is 786 feet—that's measured from the highest point to the lowest point—at Burns Cave, in Highland County. That's more than half again as deep as Virginia's tallest building is tall, the 38-story Westin Virginia Beach Town Center

Links for September 5th