• 81°

Candidates may go broke paying for Senate seat

By By Steve Flowers
Although our United States Congressmen are up for election every two years, they seldom are challenged. Incumbents win reelection at a 96 percent rate. Our founding fathers intended for the U.S. House of Representatives to reflect the changing mood of the country and for the House members to be reflective of the electorate in every way. They fully expected the average House member to stay a few terms, four to six years, in Washington and then go home. However, our U.S. House has become a bastion of career legislators whose tenure averages over two decades. Given the advantage of incumbency, if they win a seat a person can expect to retire there with little opposition, unless it is a swing seat or it becomes eliminated by reapportionment.
There are 435 House seats set out by the Constitution. Each state is apportioned a number of seats based on its population. The number of congressional seats each state is awarded is announced after the U.S. Census is taken every decade. This is the primary reason the census is taken.
The next census will be taken in 2010. In January of 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau will tell each state how many seats they will be allotted. They will be given two years to reapportion their district lines which must embrace the same number of people. In the 1960s we had nine congressmen. Since the 1970s we have lost two of our seats. We currently have seven seats comprised of five republicans and two democrats.
We have a rare vacancy occurring in one of our seven seats this year. Second District Republican Terry Everett is retiring after sixteen years on the job. An avalanche of candidates are prepared to go for broke to win the coveted open seat. However, if they were wise they would make a simple call to the U.S. Census Bureau and ask them what the projection is for Alabama after the 2010 census. The preliminary figures indicate that it is a good possibility that we will lose a congressional seat in 2010. Therefore, it is much ado about nothing. It is a fool’s gold. They are running for a seat that probably is not going to be in existence in three years. At best they will serve four years in that seat, but by 2012 it will have evaporated and flown to California, Texas, Florida or Atlanta.
There are three or four successful business people living in this southeast Alabama district that are contemplating spending a million dollars or more of their own money to win the seat. That is what Everett did in 1992 and this is the way it will be won this time. However, they need to be forewarned that they are spending $1 to 2 million of their own money to buy a seat in congress for only four years. In 2012 an unknown person with $1 to 2 million to burn in Florida or Atlanta will buy that seat that has flown away from Alabama.
Some well-heeled political wannabe will put down the money to buy the seat. It is currently and will continue to be a republican seat for the 2008 and 2010 elections until it is gone in 2012. A republican will win. A democrat can run a close race but not quite win and close only counts in marbles and horseshoes.
This scenario reminds me of a great political comedy entitled, “Distinguished Gentleman.” I highly recommend this satirical movie on congress. The star is Eddie Murphy. When a longtime Florida Congressman named Jeff Johnson dies unexpectedly, Murphy, having the same name, runs and wins the vacant seat.
The movie illustrates that congressional seats are nothing more than name identification contests. This is why the incumbent always wins. They have name id and they have the PAC money to build on and reinforce that name id. Money equates into name id. Therefore, the winner of this race will be the republican who spends the most money. It does not matter if the person is from Montgomery, Dothan or Smuteye. It is a money race. Hopefully the person who puts a couple of million of their own money into the pot to buy the seat will not be using their mortgage money or betting the family farm because they are going to be back on the farm in four years and a millionaire from Orlando or Atlanta will be sitting in that seat.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.