State of Maine: With parties eclipsing people, time for a radical restructuring in Congress

Already, we have the headache. Can we support the odious Donald Trump if we favor Republican control of government? Or are we in the “anybody but” camp, ready to support whoever wins the Democratic primary just to see him ousted? Will we choose our next U.S. senator based on which party will control the U.S. Senate or on our opinion of the incumbent herself? 

That seems to be what it is coming down to — we are voting for party rather than candidate. The Democrats vying for the primary presidential nomination are quite varied. They are old and young, moderate and liberal, experienced and fresh-faced. Never mind. Most Democrats would take any one of them in next fall’s general election.  

Likewise, Republicans are all in for President Donald Trump. There may be others in their party who would make good candidates — candidates who would not bring to the race the oft-recited liabilities that this President does. But nope. The unshakeable popularity of the President with his base has left him alone in the field, without a reasonable challenger in sight. 

Our electoral choice is coming down to overall party ideologies rather than the qualities of any individual candidate. Crossover Democrats who have supported Sen. Susan Collins in the past are now so determined to oust the President that they would not vote for her regardless of her record. And if anti-Trump motivation were not enough, there is Public Enemy Number 2, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As party control becomes the paramount consideration, middle-of-the-roaders are going the way of the dodo. 

Since our votes are more and more about party, not person, here is a modest proposal. Let’s not have a Congress at all. Or at least let’s not have one that is so big and expensive. If our elected representatives live to serve party leadership rather than us, let’s just elect the leadership positions and forget about the rest of them. 

We, the people, would elect a “congressional electorate” just as we now elect Congress, but the duty of the congressional electorate would be to convene, elect leadership and then go home. This would yield the same system we have now, but with just two senators from the majority, two from the minority and an additional senator elected “presiding officer” by the majority of the congressional electorate. 

This would give the majority a 3-2 hold on that chamber. Think of the savings! The votes that now happen across party lines would still happen that way. Contentious votes would still break down along party lines, just as they do now, and would still be won by the majority party but with a lot less fussing. 

Gone would be the endless arguing, the stultifying news interviews and the vote-counting, gone the phalanxes of men in suits marching to a podium to hold forth on the battle of the day, gone the luncheons and prayer breakfasts, the Algae Caucus and the Bourbon Caucus, the Burn Pits Caucus and the Cement Caucus and the Electromagnetic Caucus. (Yes, those are all real congressional caucuses). We would keep the Carbonated and Non-Alcoholic Caucus because, well, great name. 

Rabbit hole alert: The list of current congressional caucuses is too delicious for words. There is a Congressional Candy Caucus, a Congressional Chicken Caucus, a Congressional Civility and Respect Caucus (probably they don’t meet) and a Congressional Fertilizer Caucus. There is a Fragrance Caucus, a Songwriters’ Caucus and a Congressional Hazards Caucus.  

Under the slimmed-down scheme for Congress, some of these would have to go and some might have to be combined. There would be a single Congressional Candy and Chicken Caucus. The Fertilizer and Fragrances Caucuses are an obvious pair. The Civility and Respect Caucus could disband. The Congressional Horse Caucus might have to be reduced to just one part of a horse. But we digress. 

The five-member Senate would still make decisions based on getting re-elected and winning (or keeping) control of the chamber but without subjecting us to 95 other members gathering in front of the microphones to rattle on at length about their commitment to the good of the American people, what the American people want and what the American people won’t stand for. The obvious flaw in this proposal is what to do with Sen. Angus King. That’s easy. Angus gets a permanent Senate position with the official title of Voice of Reason. 

In the House there would be four quadrants drawn geographically, with one line bisecting the country east to west, the other north to south. The congressional electorate would elect two Democrats and two Republicans from each quadrant and a House speaker from the congressional electorate majority. Everybody else can chill.  

Voila. Tiny Congress, big savings, no perceptible change in results. You’re welcome. 

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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