AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Friday, November 1, 2013
We Hate Incumbents - Except Our Own
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on November 1, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
polls across the country clearly show voters are not happy with incumbent
members of Congress.They would like to
see them voted out of office.
not so fast.They don’t like incumbents
other than those who represent them personally.Those particular congressmen they want to keep in office.It is primarily other people’s incumbents
they have a real problem with in Washington.
not to say no veteran lawmakers are in serious trouble with their local
constituency.There are certainly many
battleground elections that will come up in 2014, especially in the primaries
where both conservatives and liberals will try to outflank each other to either
the extreme right or left.It is much
easier to upset a sitting member of Congress in the primary than in the general
election because there are simply less voters.
if incumbents are so disliked and so heavily blamed for the many problems
facing this nation today, why are they not replaced more often?Why do voters send the same officials back to
Washington year after year?
there are many reasons.Chief among them
may be the old adage about “the devil you know” being safer than the one you
is a trait not discussed much by those who analyze elections, but it weighs
mightily in the minds of campaign experts when they try to influence them.If you always know where an official stands
on most issues, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into swaying them to your
side.But true mavericks – otherwise
known as those who actually vote their consciences rather than their party –
require more attention and work to earn their support.
is also true that incumbents have a built-in advantage with the local political
establishment.Governors, mayors, city
councilors, and selectmen all count on their local congressperson to keep
federal funds flowing and help them solve their problems.They invest in relationships with the
congressional staff as well as the elected official. They are loathe to give that up and start all
over, afraid they might lose whatever “edge” they had.They also have the advantage of their
particular political party.
Congressmen and Congresswomen love to come home to the district and blame
everything on everyone else in Washington.You know, those “other people” who make the job of our poor, beleaguered
elected heroes so difficult.We are
constantly reminded how lucky we all are to have the independent, strong-minded
local person to fight our battles for us in that crazy capital city.
say it is amazing that in this internet age, with all the sources of
informational available to people, that incumbents can continue to defend their
often indefensible records.But that
itself highlights a common misperception quite prevalent today.
because the public has a vastly increased number of “informational
opportunities” does not mean they are taking advantage of them.The fact there are more places to go for
information (both good and bad) does not mean the public is therefore more
informed on the issues of the day.
can lead a voter to the issues, but you can’t make them vote.People love to complain about the lack of
general progress in Washington and in their own states, but that does not mean
they are looking to truly understand how to improve their political lot in
other words – just because you give the average voter more access to
information does not mean they will use it for purposes other than bolstering
their already-formed political positions.Information is indeed power, but power is exercised for purposes both
good and bad regularly.
to what some people may believe, it is still generally a good thing to be an
incumbent.Fundraising is easier, and
using the perks of office is always a good way to increase your re-election
vast majority of those in Congress are incumbents.Those newcomers who get elected in 2014 will
be incumbents by 2016.And
unfortunately, Congress changes those who enter it much more than those who
enter it change Congress.
politics are local, as former Speaker Tip O’Neill so eloquently said.And everybody hates incumbents – except those
who benefit by their incumbency.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and
can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at