It’s no secret that incumbents in Congress have little trouble getting re-elected. It’s a situation that is getting worse rather than better (worse, that is, if you think that there should be more turnover). Kevin Drum has come up with a list of reasons why the incumbency is so powerful. One of the items got my attention:
In a weird sort of vicious circle, Congress passes deliberately complex laws and then spends vast amounts of money on constituent services to help voters who are having trouble with federal bureaucracy. Because of this, constituent service has skyrocketed in the past few decades, and the beneficiaries of this service tend to vote for the people who helped them regardless of party affiliation or ideology.Maybe my sarcasm or satire detector is busted again (see Furr, Pamela) but that seems like a strange allegation. Representatives deliberately passing complicated laws so that constituents will become dependent on their representatives to guide them through the bureaucratic maze? I haven’t heard that one before.
But even if you take the conspiracy out of the theory, are incumbents really getting that much of an election boost from constituents that have been helped through the lawmaker’s office? I know some people do use their Congressperson’s office to resolve issues at the federal level but I can’t imagine it’s enough to be decisive in any but the closest elections. And while having a Rep assist you in some problem may ingratiate you to them, will you base you vote on that? I, for example, wouldn’t hesitate to contact Ray Lahood’s office if need be, but I doubt I’ll ever vote for him. I consider it part of the job description of any member of Congress to serve individual constituents regardless of political views.