Sleepy, Grumpy and Dopey

I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. Former President Bill Clinton was his guest, doing the usual book promotion. President Clinton took the opportunity to express his belief that many members of Congress are sleep deprived.

I thought that an odd subject for an ex-President to talk about. As you can imagine, controllers know a little about sleep deprivation. Everybody knows about the crazy shifts that controllers work, now, thanks to ComAir 5191 crashing at Lexington, KY. The gist of the conversation was, Congressmen -- especially from the west side of the country -- have to commute back and forth from their homes to Washington D.C. One of the reasons they have to go back and forth so much is to raise money for their next election campaign. President Clinton commented about how that makes them edgy. Grumpy (if you will) from lack of sleep. He also made a few other comments about how their lifestyles have changed -- and how that has changed the relationships Congressmen have with each other. Fair enough. But I wanted to go on my own tangent.

Let’s think about our Congressional Representatives for a moment. In order to keep it from getting too abstract, let’s look at it from a personal level. I want you to pick someone you know -- someone you think would be a good Congressman (or Congresswoman.) Speaking of which, do you know one ? I mean personally -- like he’s your friend. Why not ? Keep that question in mind and I’ll try to keep on track.

What would you look for in a potential Congressman ? Intelligence would obviously be on the list. Hopefully, honesty and integrity would be too. That’s all well and good but again -- still a little abstract. Would you limit yourself to lawyers ? After all, a Congressman helps write laws so its kind of a natural fit. Do you know any lawyers ? Out of all the lawyers you know, can you pick one that has the qualities you are looking for ? Do you want to limit yourself to just lawyers ? It’s not a disqualification but I don’t think we want to make it a qualification.

Honest, integrity, intelligence. What else ? I’d want at least a certain amount of leadership ability. The ability to manage a staff at a minimum. He or she can’t be an expert in everything and they’ll have to delve into a wide range of issues so I’d think a broad knowledge base would be a bonus. Someone that keeps up with things, that knows what is going on in the country and the world.

Is anybody coming to mind yet ? Remember, I want it to be somebody you know -- personally. Joe, Jim, Bob, Mike, Pat, Susan, David, somebody. Think about it for 2 minutes. Just 2 lousy minutes out of your life. Pick somebody. Pick a name. I’ll wait.

Got a name ? Good. I’m going to say I picked “Bob”. “Bob” is one of the brightest people I know. I couldn’t begin to tell you where he went to college (or even if) much less what he majored in. All I know is he’s smart, he’s capable and I’d trust him with my life. More to the point, I’d trust him with my children’s lives. He’s just a good, solid man. I’m sure you feel the same way about your pick.

So, now, how do we get “Bob” elected ? First, you have to get him to say, “Yes.” Again, lets keep it personal. Imagine walking up to your pick and saying, “Bob (or whoever), I want you to run for Congress.” Now there’s a way to start a conversation. How long would it take before you could convince your “Bob” that you were serious ? It all sounds just a little too unreal doesn’t it ? It shouldn’t.

But back to that getting elected thing. How do you do it ? You don’t have to think about that for more than 2 seconds to realize it will take a minimum of two things -- money and people. “Bob” isn’t a rich man. He’s done well but he’s not rich. Running for office costs money.

The average Congressional campaign cost just over $1 million in 2002.  The average Senate campaign cost over $3 million.

What ? You thought President Clinton was kidding about having to attend fundraisers ? Where is your “Bob” going to get a million dollars ? Every two years ? Remember, the House is up for election every two years. If you believe in your “Bob”, if you want him to go to Washington and be smart and be honest and to do good (like you know he is capable of doing) it’s going to take him more that 2 years. Or, if you decide you know somebody better than “Bob” you’ve still got the same problem -- where do you get a million dollars to get him elected ?

Let me stop and ask you a different question. How many times have you donated money to a political campaign ?

Think about your poor “Bob.” This is (supposedly) a friend of yours. Would you put him on this path ? He’ll spend four nights a week in Washington -- working for you -- and then he’ll fly home Friday night for the weekend. Remember, he needs money to run for office. He doesn’t have friends in Washington. His friends -- the ones that will donate to his campaign -- are back in your state. And while he’s there at home, he’ll have to raise money. How long do you think it’ll be before his wife and kids hate you for getting him elected ? He’s working seven days a week, the phone never stops ringing and everywhere he goes he has to ask for money.

I hope I’ve gone far enough down this path that you’ll be encouraged to follow it a little further. For instance, there are plenty of people in Washington that would be all too willing to throw money at your “Bob”. He could stay in Washington, eat dinner for free and still raise the money he needs to get reelected. All he has to do is listen to them instead of you. If he listens, he won’t have to fly coach when he wants to go back home either. His friends, his real friends -- the ones that will put their money where their mouth is -- will give him a ride back home when he needs it. Besides, they can have a nice chat during the trip and your “Bob” can “listen” a little more.

Each Congressional District has approximately 700,000 people in it. For a dollar a year (times 2 years) we could provide public financing for a House race. $1.4 million dollars.

Public financing of campaigns isn’t a new idea. That doesn’t make it a bad idea. One thing I’m certain of though -- we need a different idea than the one we have. We can choose the people we want to represent us or we can continue letting these guys choose. Personally, I’m tired of Grumpy, Sleepy and Dopey.

If you want some decent people to represent you, then you need to think about the job we’re asking them to do. It’s hard to think of a more important job but we need to think about the details. We’ve thought of the skills they’ll need. At some point, we have to ask what they should be able to reasonably ask of us. What would you want in terms of pay, benefits and perks ? Do you want to pay the mortgage on two houses (one in D.C. and one at home) on $165,200 a year ? Do you want to fly coach every Friday night and Monday morning ? Do you want to attend a fundraiser every other night ? Do you want them to have to hold their hand out everywhere they go, asking for money ?

Keep in mind, your “Bob” may be thinking you’re “Bob.”

Don Brown
September 21, 2007


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