By Alan Caruba
Those who follow politics more intently than I will no doubt be able to identify why, specifically, various incumbent Senators and Representatives have decided not to run for office in the 2012 elections, but as of this writing 43 incumbents have made it known they will not seek reelection.
Among the one hundred members of the Senate, five Democrats, three Republicans, and one Independent have made it known they will not seek office again thus far. In the House, thirty-four members have decided not to run; twenty are Democrats and fourteen are Republicans.
The Senate is composed of one hundred members, two from each State, while the House, based on population distribution, has 435 members, subject to districting that often favors one party over another. There are “safe” seats in districts that have a preponderance of one party’s registered voters.
The 112th Congress has 51 Democrats in the Senate, 47 Republicans and two independents that presumably vote with either party, but tend to favor one over the other. The slight majority of Senate Democrats cedes control to that party while, in the House, the Republicans control its agenda. The House has 240 Republicans, 192 Democrats, and three vacancies.
President Obama is running against a “do-nothing” Congress and it is worth remembering that, for the first two years of his term, Democrats controlled both chambers. More than 1,000 days have passed without a published budget. This is because Democrats do not want the public to know how much money is being spent or, to be more accurate, wasted.
The 2010 elections shifted power in the House to the Republican majority, largely due to the Tea Party movement that in time may be the next generation of Republican Party leadership. There used to be a Republican “establishment” but that is now largely a thing of the past.
Nor can it be said to have been a “do-nothing” Congress if one considers that it passed Obamacare, his signature piece of legislation. Its constitutionality will be decided when, in March, it comes before the Supreme Court in a case brought by 28 State attorneys general who deem it unconstitutional for its mandate that Americans must buy health insurance whether they want to or not. A federal government that can require you to buy anything is one with far too much power.
The Constitution exists to limit the power of the federal government.
In the Senate, Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska whose vote was deemed critical to the passage of Obamacare has announced he will not seek reelection. Several other powerful members such as Jon Kyl of Arizona (R), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas, and Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota will leave. The independent, Joe Lieberman, is not seek reelection in Connecticut, nor the fiery Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, Jeff Bingaman—generally regarded as non-partisan, though a Democrat—joins Herb Kohl (D) and Daniel Akaka (D) of Hawaii who has served in both Houses since 1975.
Many factors play in such decisions. Sometimes it is simply age, the recognition that it is time to retire. Other times it is the change in the political climate from liberal to conservative that would favor an opponent. An unpopular President whose defeat might take down many of his party’s members is a significant factor in the 2012 elections.
The role of the Tea Party in the 2010 elections is certainly on the minds of many Democrat incumbents in the House who will not run for reelection. One of the most powerful members of the House, Barney Frank (D-MA) has announced he will not run for reelection and his role in protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the years leading up to the 2008 financial collapse is no doubt a factor.
Ron Paul (R-TX), currently running for the GOP nomination, will not seek reelection and his candidacy is more of a last hurrah for his Libertarian views than a serious bid for the office of President. Keeping politics in the family, his son Rand (R) serves as a Senator from Kentucky.
Six Democrat House members from California are not seeking reelection. Given its size and population—California has 53 districts—there is not much to be made of those deciding not to run again.
Power in Congress is a numbers game of how many members are from the two main political parties, but it is also a question of longevity which lifts members into the chairmanship of powerful congressional committees when they remain there for many years.
I think the system would be vastly improved if there were term limits for members of Congress just as there is for the presidency.
Presently, Congress is held in such low esteem according to the polls, the President’s decision to run against it would appear to be a wise—very political--decision, but while his personal popularity remains intact, polls indicate a significant dissatisfaction with his performance in office.
It will be interesting to see how many Democrat incumbents conclude they cannot win with Obama at the top of the ticket and bail out—no pun intended. It is an indicator, but hardly the only one.
© Alan Caruba, 2012