Two branches have dominated the conversation. Look at the one we have the most influence over.
A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair. But no, You sent us Congress! Good God, Sir, was that fair? – 1776 (1972)
An interesting twist in the 2016 political season has left a seat on the Supreme Court bench open, meaning we’ll soon not just get a new president to replace the consequential Obama but also a new Supreme Court justice to replace the intellectual giant of Scalia. I don’t want to answer the question of whether we’ll have a new justice in 2016, but Obama has ample time to get a politically acceptable one through.
One sort of benefit of this newsworthy event is that it has drawn attention to the judgeships we’ve left empty due to political gridlock. Those are federal courts that are squeezed for human resources; those are cases that have to be delayed or rushed through the system. Leave the politics out of it. There are real consequences to this nonsense. There’s no telling for sure we’ll have a new justice and new judges by year end.
What we will have, come January 2017, is a new Congress. (And I’ll be 25. Shit.)
Per usual, and because it bears repeating, all 435 seats in the GOP-controlled House are probably contested (247 Republicans, 188 Democrats); 34 seats are up for grab in the GOP-controlled Senate (24 Republicans and 10 Democrats). Remember that the Senate is the one threatening to block Obama’s nominees in the first place. With key races, the Republicans could keep the Senate, Democrats could take it. And it looks like we’re not too happy with ’em as a whole:
And unlike for president, your votes actually count directly! Wow, who designed this thing?!
Think of all the issues that got you riled up the last couple years–or even the last eight. Healthcare. Foreign policy. Sequestration. Whatever it is, Congress probably had a hand on it. I mean, come on, it’s these guys:
Let’s not be inaccurate–Congress was not intended to be dumb, but it is designed constitutionally to be gridlocked, to prevent any one interest from gaining dominance. But it does feel like it’s gotten a bit out of hand.
“…the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]” – Federalist No. 10 (1787)
We can be mad about having to compete with 230 million other voters for the chief executive (or a caucus nomination process that’s clearly rigged), or even a Senate race with 18 million registered voters (if you’re in giant California), but once we get down to congressional districts of size 711,000 people (not eligible voters) we’re running out of excuses. Keep in mind not all these people actually vote! (50% of registered voters didn’t in 2012.)
That said, there are a few problems with actually having influence on these elections as an “average” voter. One is campaign finance; unlimited money has its advantages. Another is that we still haven’t dealt with gerrymandering, which has gotten a few mentions from the president. But votes can make the difference. In California’s 26th district (west of Los Angeles), the Democrat won in the 2014 race by a margin of 2.5%. In Arizona, the Republican won by a measly 121 votes.
“In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” – Federalist No. 51 (1788)
The election is November 8, 2016.* Start thinking** about your perhaps-obscure congressional election now. The 115th Congress is inaugurated January 3, seventeen days before our new president. That’s two weeks to screw up the system before Trump even gets to it.