Skip to comments.‘Congressmen, Humorists, Burglars – All of Us in the Trade’ -- Why I’m Not Running in 2004
Posted on 05/08/2004 2:05:47 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
Mark Twain frequently used the title quote to introduce himself to civic associations where he spoke. It seemed the proper beginning to an article about Congress in general, and about why I am not running for the House in 2004. The trade that Twain referred to was extracting ill-gotten gains from the unsuspecting public.
Eight years after the first Americans established our new government under the Constitution, we divided into two major political parties: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Both they and their allied newspaper editors then turned the denigration of their congressional opponents into a cottage industry that has persisted to this day.
Of course, the attacks on Members of Congress as gypsies, tramps and thieves applied only to the members of the Other Party, whichever that was at the time. The result among the public was an increasing cynicism that either one side was right, or perhaps both of them were right.
As H.L. Mencken observed, The American people get the government they deserve, good and hard.
And whats the solution to the relatively low quality of national politics? (I except most of state and local politicians. My experience is that the quality of government goes down as the prominence of the politicians goes up.) Edmund Burke stated the solution centuries ago: It is enough for evil to triumph, if good men do nothing.
Not just in my proto-campaign for Congress in Western Carolina, but all my life, Ive met thousands of people who are interested in politics, honest, hard-working, who ought to be involved but are not. Precisely the kind of people who ought to run for office, or help others who are running, arent involved.
Why talk about such things at the very time that I announce that Im NOT running? Two reasons: money and people.
I wont bore yall with a detailed recap of my 1994 book, Why Term Limits?, on reelection of incumbents to Congress. The bottom line is clear: Beginning in the 1930's, Congress changed from a body of largely citizen-legislators to one dominated by career politicians. For the welfare of the Republic that was not a beneficial change. But it happened from logical causes.
As the size of congressional districts steadily increased, especially after the House membership was capped at 435, the techniques of mass marketing and campaign organization came to dominate the election process. Especially in recent elections it became possible to predict with high accuracy who would win any House election, based on fund-raising.
The average congressional district population is now about 662,000. Any candidate who runs in such a district counting mostly on an ample supply of shoe leather and enthusiasm is a fool on a fools errand. Its as simple as that.
In the summer of 1992, I wrote with a colleague of mine, Edward Roeder, an article in the Orlando Sentinel, predicting (as it turned out) with 99.5% accuracy the results of the House elections to be held in November. We used only two factors in our research: fund-raising and incumbency. Our results were rather impressive, considering that there were thousands of apparent candidates and most of the primaries had not been conducted.
Any candidate who had raised less than $50,000 by June 30 of that year, we dismissed as political road kill. The cost of the average successful campaign for Congress has more than doubled since then. So any House candidate who has raised less than $100,000 by June 30, 2004, will be political road kill in November. That standard includes me.
Its always easier to give good advice to others than it is to accept that same advice yourself. Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Thats why poker players draw to an inside straight, why people by lottery tickets, and why fans still support the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. Thats also why I was sorely tempted to run in 2004, even though I know better.
Theres another critical factor in House elections, dedicated volunteers who will work in a campaign. Consider this: Less than 14% of employed Americans are now members of unions. Still, the power of the unions is such that they can still claim as wholly-owned subsidiaries most of the national Democrats (and an occasional Republican, like the narrowly surviving Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter).
It isnt just the money that the union leadership throws into the fray. Its the fraction of their membership that they can turn out as volunteers that allows this shrinking tail to keep wagging the Democratic dog. While I disagree with most of the issues that union leaders promote, their effect on elections is real. The conclusion is clear: No candidate who lacks a sufficient base of volunteers can possibly run a competent campaign.
Unlike political fund-raising, which is charted to a fare-thee-well, there are no hard statistics on the bare minimum of in-district volunteers a House candidate should have for a competent campaign. Still, based on experience and research, I conclude that 1,000 volunteers is the minimum. I dont have that many signed up, now.
So, thats two strikes and youre out. And the decision is irrevocable. The filing deadline was yesterday.
From the beginning I promised not to be a lightning-strike candidate. Print a few flyers, give a few speeches, plant a sign on your own lawn, and hope for lightning to strike. Many candidates do exactly that. Thats unfair to their supporters, unfair to their families, and a classic case of self-deception.
But does that mean Ive given up on the effort to become a well-prepared, very effective Member of Congress? Not at all.
I will maintain my Exploratory Committee, only the target will be 2006 rather than 2004. Instead of taking a mere six months to prepare, I will take two years. Right now, I ask those who think I would make a significant improvement in the House of Representatives to [deleted], and also sign up to help if youre in the 11th District of North Carolina.
[Paragraph deleted, in accord with JimRob's posting policies on FreeRepublic about references to fund-raising here.]
How can that possibly work, I hear you cry? Long ago I was pleased to serve several years on the Board of the American Leukemia Society. Every year we debated whether to abolish the community campaigns run by housewives among their neighbors. The dollar amounts raised were relatively low and the costs of conducting those campaigns were relatively high. Both results were the reverse of our very successful efforts to encourage wills and bequests to provide money for leukemia research.
Still, every year we voted to continue the community campaigns because of the personal commitment they represented. People who make even very small contributions to any effort will be far more likely to pay attention to the effort and support it in the future. Thats why Ill seek a large base of small contributions.
Im certain from my experiences that if I can get 10,000 people to make small [deleted], I can attract the major [deleted] to flesh out an effective campaign. And if that piques your interest, please visit www.ArmorforCongress.com and follow your instincts.
Let me go beyond my concerns as just one possible candidate in one of 435 Districts. Among the readers of this column are hundreds of people who can and ought to be candidates for public office. And the Republic will be the better for your efforts, if you run and IF you win.
Be realists. Understand how much money and how many volunteers will be essential to a successful effort. Start early and work hard to reach those minimums. Every time a good man or a good woman enters the fray with all best intentions, but gets smacked down by the regular politicians, it sends a negative message to other potential candidates. The message is that ordinary, salt-of-the-earth people have no place in American politics. The truth is the exact opposite. Such people are desperately needed in politics, today more than ever.
There are about a half-million elected offices in the US. Most are non-partisan elections in small districts. In those, shoe leather, energy and common sense are the ingredients for victory. Its easy to get your political feet wet, if youve a mind to.
So I suggest that you take the same approach that I have today. If you think, as do most of my friends and colleagues, that American politics would be improved by new blood, act on those beliefs. Run for office. Or help others run. But please, dont run any lightning strike campaigns. Take time, do your homework, do it right, and win.
I look forward to shaking hands with some of you as colleagues, at the swearing-in ceremony for Congress in January, 2007.
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About the Author: John Armor is an author and columnist on politics and history. He has an Exploratory Committee to run for Congress.
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©) 2004, Congressman Billybob & John Armor. All rights reserved.
Good or bad, please let me know your thoughts on this.
John / Billybob
Where can I get more info on this, please?
Agreed. Is there anything we can do to change this? There really has to be a national name to be a figurehead. But I can't imagine anyone who fits the part.
It's a simple equation. If I can't be a Good Example -- this year, anyway -- I can avoid being a Bad Example. Does that make sense?
John / Billybob
I apologize for not sending you the money I intended on sending. You certainly deserve support. I'll do better next time. I've just been poorer than normal the past two years. There have been too many good causes for me to keep up with. But my heart and prayers are with your continuing efforts.
Didn't Twain also say America had no native criminal class, aside from the politicians (wink)! Good luck in the future and keep fighting the good fight. I've been lurking for a while and I've always enjoyed your posts and your evident good sense.
"Say not the struggle availeth naught...", as somebody or other said.
Somehow I missed your ping!
I did a search of your posts to see what you were up to and found this.
It's sad news, but your analysis is (as usual) a correct one.
I will ping this to the NC crowd immediately.
I hope your chances are better in '06.
All the best,
Soyboy claimed to be a FReeper. LOL
It is with mixed feelings that I read this. While understanding and appreciating the wisdom of this decision, I also regret that we will have to wait a bit longer to have you in the House of Representatives. May God bless you and your endeavors towards this goal!
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