NEW YORK – One of the greatest problems facing our democracy is highlighted in the 2010 Congressional elections. Members of Congress are rarely voted out of office. They die, they retire, they resign but even in this year of Tea Party turmoil, most will not be voted out.
Democrat Louise Slaughter is the current representative in Congress for New York State’s 28th Congressional District. She has held that seat for 12 terms, nearly 24 years. The district presently consists of the inner cities of Buffalo and Rochester connected by a string of lightly populated towns along Lake Ontario. In 2008, there were a total of 357,963 voters registered in that district and 55 percent of them were registered Democratic. 23 percent of registered voters listed the Republican Party. The remainder listed no party or a small political party.
Through five Congressional elections, 2000 – 2008, Slaughter received an average of 71percent of the votes. Her highest totals were in Presidential election years and her lowest in the off year elections, averaging 73 percent and 68 percent respectively.
Slaughter is not alone as an incumbent in New York State. A group called Fair Vote has put together some statistics about Congressional elections in New York that show incumbents have historically had an overwhelming advantage. From 1996 through 2008, incumbent Congressmen ran for reelection 195 times and were reelected 189 times, a success rate of 96.9 percent.
As reported by Open Secrets, Congresswoman Slaughter has raised $568,000 for this cycle. Unions hold the top three spots under the industries contributing and 73 percent of her funds were contributed by PACs. Her Republican opponents, other than in 2002, raised less than 10 percent in each election and some reported raising nothing at all.
The lack of turnover in New York’s Congressional delegation is the norm nationally, not the exception The Congressional Research Service, in a report titled Reelection Rates of House Incumbents 1790-1994 reported that in 76 of 103 elections in the period, incumbents were reelected over 80% of the time. Reelection rates only dropped below 70 percent for incumbents seven times during the period studied.
Some of the reasons for the continued reelection of incumbents are easily seen in case of Louise Slaughter. Her district is designed, gerrymandered, so as to provide the Democratic Party with an overwhelming advantage in registered voters. The Republican Party has chosen to run token candidates against her, including candidates that neither raised nor spent any campaign funds at all.
Jill Rowland is the Republican candidate running against Louise Slaughter in 2010. She has the backing of the local Tea Parties, which is comforting but will mean little if history is a guide. She has raised $4,510 to Slaughter’s $568,161.
Nationally, CQ Politics reports 163 safe Democratic seats and 168 safe Republican seats for a total of 76 percent of the House seats considered safe. A different source, Real Clear Politics, shows 137 safe Democratic seats and 162 safe Republican ones, 69 percent of the total.
Based on history and the various political prognostications, the vast majority of members of the House of Representatives including Louise Slaughter will be reelected. Americans should ask themselves if this is what they want? We are, in effect, electing a government for life. That concept ought to trouble everyone who votes. Governing for life is for monarchies and dictatorships, not for the United States of America.