Monday, March 16, 2015

Can Congress Change?

By Cal Potter

Immediately after the November 2014 elections, we heard that a new era of a functional Congress was about to begin. Months later, conditions have gone from bad to worse and the hope for future improvement is not bright.

Conservatives abandoned their lawmaking role to focus on contrariness and obstructionism toward the other party, particularly the President. They vilify the President on most matters, and, in the process, are constantly shamefully disrespectful. That contrary role turned extreme in the recent letter to Iran and unilateral speech invitation to the Israeli President, undermining the work of our Department of State and President.

As most school children learn, legislative branches of government are supposed to study our problems, pass corrective laws, and find revenue sources for resultant programs. In contrast, today’s Congress acts as opposition pundits, and avoids, like the plague, major issues such as immigration, infrastructure, education, climate change, energy, war powers, and health care.

Congressional Republicans will not initiate action to address the above issues because such initiatives would bring about scrutiny by the extremist right-wing, particularly media talk show hosts. God forbid that a conservative politician receive criticism from the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, O’Reilly, Sykes, and the right-wing propaganda machine, especially embodied in FoxNews. Thus, any proposed solutions, cooperation, civil or intellectual discussion, and compromise are impossible.

The tens of millions of dollars spent on the project to gerrymander Congressional and state legislative districts have been so successful that elections in most districts are now determined in low voter turn-out, primary elections. In low voter, primary elections, Republicans find that the ultra-conservatives often determine the winner, who then becomes the officeholder. So, those with moderate political stands on the issues, which more reflect the majority of people, are shut out from representation and hope for change. These office-holders, protected from partisan competition in their safe districts, can and do proceed to ignore public opinion. Similar candidate pandering to the extreme right is now taking place in the fight for the Republican presidential nomination.

Now that money rules politics more than ever, special interest groups, not public opinion, determine political behavior. That reality is not good for the populace, but great for big donors. We have the best Congress money can buy, and they are serving their constituency well by inaction on public good legislation and mouthing and delivering the special interest agenda.

We must elect legislators who make laws and recognize the concept of separation of powers; realize that compromise is a part of the process; find solutions based on science and fact; and, collectively work for the common good. We must have campaign finance reform where corporations are not deemed as people, and large unlimited campaign contributions as free speech. We must enact redistricting reform where districts are drawn by a non-partisan group to be competitive and respect communities of interest, and not by partisan politicians who try to stay safely in office and protect and enhance their majority power.

Today, we have an interesting political paradox wherein over-whelming public opinion says Congress is dysfunctional, yet, by voting or not voting, a constituency elects the very persons who create and perpetuate this disliked conduct.

Calvin Potter, of Sheboygan Falls, served in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1975 to 1991 and in the Wisconsin State Senate from 1991 to 1999. He currently serves on the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board.

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