One of the mysteries of American politics is why candidates put themselves and their families through numbingly grueling campaigns, grovel for campaign contributions, make promises they know they can’t keep to get to the state capital or the nation’s capital — and then they look for every excuse to not stay there.
We have extreme examples of this now in Wisconsin and Indiana where Democratic lawmakers have fled to other states to avoid bringing to a vote bills they oppose but don’t have the votes to defeat.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker considered having the state police round up the 14 wayward state senate Democrats, but by that time they were in Illinois, one senator with only his toothbrush and a spare shirt.
In Indiana, nearly 30 House Democrats also fled to Illinois, which is bidding to rival Canada as a place of asylum. Gov. Mitch Daniels, a more experienced politician than Walker, declined to consider sending anybody after them. It might have been akin to playing hide-and-go-seek with an obnoxious kid. The kid goes and hides and you buy yourself some peace and quiet by not looking for him.
Democrats in the Ohio state legislature would have fled also but there aren’t enough of them for their absence to make any difference.
There was a great precedent in 2003 when 51 Texas Democrats hid out in an Oklahoma Holiday Inn in an attempt to kill a Republican-backed campaign bill. A legislative leader tried to have the Texas state police arrest them but it was pointed out they couldn’t go around arresting people outside of Texas. So he or somebody in the state government tried to get the U.S. Department of Homeland Security involved by suggesting that perhaps the Democrats had been aboard a plane that crashed.
Eventually, they all came back. They always do.
A variation of laboring mightily to get elected to the capital and then not wanting to stay there is taking place in Washington, D.C.
Thirty-three members of Congress — 26 Republicans and seven Democrats — are living in their congressional offices. One Republican explained that it wasn’t worth it to rent an apartment or bring his family out because he would only be working three- and four-day weeks. Really? Did he make that clear to the voters when he was campaigning?
A watchdog group says living in a government-provided office is a taxable benefit. That could hurt. Rents are pretty steep around the U.S. Capitol and who knows how expensive to actually be in the Capitol.
Some of you may have worried about a driving vacation this summer because every time you pull off the highway the motels will be full up with fugitive lawmakers. There’s a solution to that. Since your U.S. representative won’t be using his office much, ask him if you and the family can stay there while you tour Washington.
Now your lawmaker won’t be freeloading off the government. He’ll be providing constituent service. Be sure to leave a thank-you note and replace what you took from the office fridge.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.