The cost of political folly — 660,000 unrepresented citizens

Today I wish I lived in Palm Beach County, Florida. The temperature is floating in the high 70s, the humidity in the low 40s. Here, in western New York, it has been raining and partly cloudy.

Yep, nice weather down south. But, more importantly, I could vote today in a special election in House District 19 to replace Rep. Robert Wexler, who resigned in January to run a think tank that ponders deeply about the Mideast.

If I moved to northern Georgia, in House District 9, I could vote on April 29 to replace former Rep. Nathan Deal, who resigned March 1 one step ahead of ethics charges to run for governor. (I wouldn’t vote for him, though; at least one group considers him among the most corrupt members of Congress.)

If I lived in House District 12 in southwestern Pennsylvania, I could vote May 18 in a special election to replace earmark king Rep. John Murtha, who died in early February.

Sadly, I live in rural western New York, in District 29. I have no representative in Congress because Democratic Rep. Eric Massa self-destructed in early March because of aberrant behavioral traits not seen by voters (and certainly not by me, who supported him).

So I need to persuade the governor of the state of New York to call a special election to replace Massa, because he has not done so.

In New York, the governor cannot appoint someone to hold the seat until a special election is held.

So Gov. David Paterson appears content to allow Congress to do what it does without a representative from District 29, disenfranchising its 660,000 citizens until the next Congress seats itself in January. That’s intolerable.

Since Massa’s resignation, Paterson has vacillated (or has at least been portrayed in press reports that way) on calling a special election to replace Massa, who edged into office with 51 percent of the 275,728 votes cast, tossing out ineffectual former Rep. Randy Kuhl in 2008.

Paterson had promised to call one, but, according to The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious and Phil Fairbanks, his promise is evaporating. Apparently, Republicans say, political considerations are afoot (gasp!). But Paterson’s office claims the cost of a special election, in part born by counties, is a consideration.

Cost? Sure, that’s a problem. But politicians in New York have never worried about sticking taxpayers with the bill for anything.

Hawaii fretted about trying to do a mail-in-only election to replace Neil Abercrombie, who resigned his District 1 seat to run for governor. Estimated cost: $920,000. But Hawaiians will indeed vote May 22 in a winner-take-all special election, cost notwithstanding.

Four states plan, despite politics and financial circumstances, special elections to replace House representatives who died or resigned. New York, so far, does not plan to do so.

That means I and 660,000 people do not have a representative in Congress. I have no one to call to urge that he or she put teeth in Sen. Chris Dodd’s watered-down, weak-kneed bill to regulate the finance industry after it passes the Senate. I have no one to call to demand that he or she fight to overturn President Obama’s decision to expand off-shore oil drilling. I have no one to call to beg that he or she find more money to fix the roads and bridges of one of the poorest congressional districts in New York.

Even Massa’s House Web site no longer exists. Instead, the Office of the Clerk of the House has left a page of information describing the “limited scope” of that district’s office. (Perhaps I can still get a flag that has flown over the Capitol.)

No citizen should be left without representation in Congress for a few months, let alone nearly a year. The governor of New York should immediately call for a special election. The state legislature should craft a law that mandates special elections instead of leaving them to the whim of a governor who needs a better political compass, one that points to those who are governed rather than politicians who seek advantage.

But we’ll continue to pay state and federal taxes, won’t we?

(A hat tip to my former students, Tim Sahd and Dan Roem, at The Hotline of the National Journal.)

2 replies »

  1. I was going to say, until I got your parting shot, that here in the US we don’t believe in taxation w/o representation (if then). Seems fair that you should at least hold back the portion of your tax bill that goes to paying the Rep. and his/her staff, right?