“All government originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole.” … Article 1, Section 2, Alaska State Constitution.
According to an August poll conducted on behalf of the Rasmuson Foundation, most Alaskans recognize the need for new revenue to deal with the state’s ongoing budget crisis. So you would think when our legislators come to Juneau in January they’ll be well prepared to give it serious consideration. But don’t expect that, says Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, because “right or wrong, politicians worry about their careers first.”
According to the same poll, only 15 percent of the public approves of our legislature’s performance. And almost two-thirds think that “only sometimes” or “almost never” best describes how often our elected officials “do the right thing for Alaska’s residents.”
So it seems what’s “good of the people as a whole” isn’t important to our many of our legislators.
In a Sunday editorial, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner used the word shameful to describe members of both the Senate and House and majority caucuses. “Alaskans voted for their leaders to steer the ship of state in hard times,” they wrote, and to put off decisions about revenue until after next year’s elections “would be a betrayal of that trust.”
But there’s a catch to the News-Miner’s statement. The fact is we Alaskans didn’t vote in the entire body. We each elected only one Senator and one representative from our respective districts. So even if we believe many of them are failing, they have little interest in paying pay attention to what the rest of us think.
And as the records show, regardless of the overall approval ratings, incumbents are rarely defeated. That’s especially true for members of Congress. It must be those “other” voters who are constantly returning the poor performers to office.
Imagine for a moment if we could cast votes across district lines. I’m sure most Alaskans would love to have the chance to send a powerful congressional Democrat like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) packing. She’s been there almost 30 years. That’s much too long.
Our own Rep. Don Young doesn’t have the kind of influence Pelosi does even though he’s been in Congress since 1973. Unfortunately, most Americans recognize him for his rudeness. Such was the case last week when Rep. Peter King (R-NY) was being interviewed for by a TV news reporter. Young loudly muttered “move it – out of the way” while shoving his colleague aside. The rest of the country is stuck with this ineffective lawmaker because most Alaskans seem to think he’s great.
Of course, every time Young runs for re-election he argues he’s the most qualified candidate to represent us. But to believe that over the course of four decades there wasn’t a single Alaskan who could have done a better job is the height of arrogance.
The truth is it’s difficult for even the most qualified opponent to match the name recognition and fund raising capability of any long serving legislator. So more often than not these politicians aren’t seriously challenged on Election Day. And that’s not a good thing for our democracy.
Career politicians are also weakening the constitutional balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. The current problem with our legislators ignoring Gov. Walker’s call to consider new revenue sources is one example. Another is their lawsuit challenging his authority to expand Medicaid.
Perhaps the most overt example though is the open letter sent by 47 U.S. senators to the leaders of Iran last March. This was regarding the negotiations being conducted by the Obama administration over Iran’s nuclear program. While the U.S. Constitution does define power sharing responsibilities between the President and Congress on such foreign policy matters, the senators included a statement that implied they held the greater power. After explaining that U.S. presidents are limited to two terms, they wrote “President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.”
The last thing career politicians will do is admit their longevity in office is contributing to the breakdown of our government. So it’s up to us to find ways to repair the damage they’re doing. And because we can only vote our own representatives into retirement, term limits are needed to throw out those bums who represent everyone else.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and regular columnist for the Juneau Empire.