Members of Congress No Longer “Represent” their Districts

Tim Lynch at Cato at Liberty makes an interesting claim, that recently members of Congress aren’t necessarily representatives of their districts. He points out that Tom Delay is on the ballot in Texas, but has also declared himself to be a Virginian. Granted in Delay’s case part of the problem is the ruling of judge that is preventing Delay from retiring and thus take his name off the ballot this November, but Lynch points to other examples.

  • Bob Dole announces his bid for President in Russel Kansas, but after losing lives in the Watergate.
  • Elizabeth Dole moved to North Carolina to become a Senator.
  • Bill and Hillary Clinton moved to New York so Hillary could become a Senator.

Lynch also points to William Weld, the former governor of Massachussetts, who came to New York to run for governor there.

All this is used as justification for term limits. Not sure I see the connection here. After all, there is still the voting process that these people have to go through. If the people in those “districts” felt that these people weren’t going to do at least an adequate job representing them, then why vote for them? And how does term limits prevent this problem other than increasing turn over which may be a good thing, or maybe not.

Overall the thinking here seems very muddled at best.

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Maggie says:

    Elizabeth Dole was born in North Carolina so she can’t be called a “carpet bagger” like Hillary Clinton.

    I would venture a guess that Bob Dole lived more days in Washington, D.C., while serving as Senator from Kansas so that example is mute.

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Yeah I’m not impressed with the examples either Maggie. When Dole moved to the Watergate he was no longer in the Senate nor running for office so that alone seems to address that example. And Elizabeth Dole can definitely argue she has “come home” in moving to North Carolina, so that is kind of weak as well. About the only decent one left is Hillary Clinton and hanging an entire theory/view point on one observation is problematic at best.

  3. I suspect that if you charted birth places, later states families moved to, colleges attended, service in the military, etc. that many if not most of the congress critters don’t ‘represent’ their districts as they have at some point lived somewhere else.

    Is the argument that you had to live in the district all you life in order to ‘represent’ it? If the answer is no, then we are just arguing about how much time in and away from the district is reasonable. The US constitution, state laws and the voters seem to be able to handle this easily.

    Do I think the New Yorkers made a poor choice in Hillary, sure. But then I was also amazed to think that there was a district in Massachusetts that used to vote for Tip O’Niel, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. The state is still putting the last two in as their preferred ‘representatives’. So I guess I am less concerned about people moving about, complying with the law and getting elected as not being representative as I am the quality of some of the representatives they pick.

    And I am sure some of those on the left side of the aisle are also concerned about representative quality that isn’t rooted in time in the district, though I suspect the names they would bring up would differ from my list.

  4. Seminole 6 says:

    Not so sure it is a good example for term limits either. I think a point may be that one should not expect loyalty from a politico. They are, deep down, all professional politicians.

  5. Pug says:

    My bet is DeLay wins in November. I know that district pretty well and I bet DeLay wins.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Steve: Emails to your domain email are bouncing and I don’t appear to have an alternate.

  7. floyd says:

    the people of illinois would find that headline perplexing since they don’t even remember a day when anybody expected them to.

  8. McGehee says:

    I think a point may be that one should not expect loyalty from a politico. They are, deep down, all professional politicians.

    If only more people would bear this in mind on election day, nobody would have ever dreamed of term limits.


  9. Brian J. says:

    I think it’s more symptomatic that people are growing more comfortable with a mercenary ruling class who will represent your district if you only elect them to keep them in power in Washington.

    Kinda like baseball free agency. Sure, that person played for another team this year, but your district needs a power hitter, so you pick up a non-elected official and elect them to a two-, four-, or six-year contract to play for your home team. As long as they’re putting up big pork for your district, you don’t care where there from or where they went to college.

  10. Dave says:

    Don’t forget Sam Houston. Born in Virginia, governor of Tennessee, President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of the State of Texas among other things.