Minus The Nemesis
A Collaboration of Some of the Finest Thought on Today's World


Sunday, October 29, 2006
This is a column that I wrote for another website, but the sentiment is the same. Enjoy! Or don't.

It is time for midterm elections in 2006 and there are quite a few nail-biting races taking place. With a Republican controlled House and Senate, the Democrats plan to upset that fact by making it their House and Senate. Will it happen? You, the voter will decide whether it will or not! This is a special year in that there are quite a few world-changing events going on nearly every day it would seem. I think that more and more young voters are going to be getting out to the ballot box and may even come to the same conclusion that I have: a midterm election can be just as, if not more, important than a Presidential election. Hopefully, you will walk away from this column with a bit more of an interest in your nation's politics. Politics isn't an easy thing to grasp with efficiency, per se. Merely keeping up with political terms is becoming increasingly difficult in that they are nearly always changing. What I aim to accomplish is give the reader a bit more of an understanding of the way the midterm elections work and how important they really are. Minus more babbling, here it goes.

First and foremost, what exactly is a midterm election? According to nearly all online resources that I queried, it is an election in which members of Congress, state legislators and some state governors are elected, but not the President. Easy enough, right? Well, there is a bit more to the whole gig. Let's start with Congress.

The United States Congress is bicameral meaning that it is comprised of two houses or chambers essentially. In the case of the US those two legislative bodies are known as the House of Representatives (or House) and the Senate. These two elements are housed in Washington DC in the capitol building with the north wing occupied by the Senate and the south wing occupied by the House.

The House is comprised of 435 members (in addition, there is a non-voting delegate from DC and three other non-voting members) each representing a separate congressional district. Each member of the House is elected for an initial term of two years. Should their constituents in their represented congressional districts like they way they spoke and acted for the people, they may be elected to unlimited subsequent terms. Some states have more representatives than other states. This is due to the apportionment (basically a determination of representation in politics) of House seats by state population (looked at every decade and based on the US Census). While Congress itself has the power to change the number of seats in the House, it probably won't. States like California, Texas and New York will have more representatives in the House than say, South Dakota, Rhode Island or Montana because of the populations of said states. The number of representatives that a state has also determines the state's presidential electors (this is a whole other column; the electoral college). This is a number that can change. This is referred to as reapportionment of the House. What this means is that based on a decennial US Census a state's population may have changed over the course of the last ten years. For example, say that millions migrated from California to Montana leaving California with a very small population. Montana would now be granted more seats in the House as well as more electors for presidential elections because of this. To tie the numbers together, a state's representatives in the House plus its two Senators equals the state's Congressional delegation as well as its number of electoral votes applicable to a presidential election. Usually where there is reapportionment of the House, there is also redistricting. This is a fancy term for "changing political boundaries" in that no constituency will be unequally represented. In the case of redistricting there is another term associated with it that should be brought forth: gerrymandering. This term refers to the act of while redistricting, to redistrict such that your opponents are placed in an electoral disadvantage. Case in point of another type of gerrymandering (affirmative or racial gerrymandering) is in the state of Georgia. Georgia's 11th Congressional District was questioned by white voters in that it was a really oddly shaped 6,700 square-mile district created in hopes that an African-American would have a better chance at getting elected. The court ruled against the "geographical monstrosity" calling it unconstitutional via the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. As a result of this decision, in 1996 the 4th Congressional District was created and led by Cynthia McKinney. If this isn't reason enough to point out that voting matters even at the local level to make sure that the right person for the job gets the job, I don't know what is. Being that members of the House are elected (or reelected) every two years, every seat in the House is up for election. Check your state for races there. As far as leadership within the House is concerned, there is a Speaker of the House, a Majority Leader and a Minority Leader. It should be mentioned that the Speaker of the Houses' power isn't derived from the Constitution (only that there should exist such a position) but is derived from rules made by the House itself.

On to the Senate! The Senate is the other half of the US bicameral system. Each state is equally represented in the Senate in that they each have only two members to represent them. This means that there are only 100 members of the US Senate right now. Senators serve for six-year terms that are staggered (meaning that every second year about one-third of the seats are up for election). This staggering effect brings about three separate classes. As defined by Article I, Section 3, Clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States of America:
"Immediately after [the Senate of the United States] shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year."
According to this logic, Class I Senators are up for election in 2006 while Class II and Class III Senators are up for election in 2008 and 2010, respectively. At this point it is important to bring up the leadership of the Senate. The Vice-President is the President of the Senate (he isn’t a Senator and only votes in the event that there is a tie). Even with this additional duty, the VP rarely acts as the President of the Senate (he is presumably busy with many other things) and so a President pro tempore is the acting President of the Senate; usually the most senior Senator of the majority party. There is also a Majority Leader and a Minority Leader. It is set up so that the President of the United States can't really make important world-type decisions without the approval of the Senate. This means that the President of the United States did not make many of the decisions that Joe Public is very critical of alone. Originally, the bicameral system was to be as such: a "people's house" that was more critical on a public level and a more "elderly", wiser element (the Senate). Basically, the bicameral system was brought about in that the two legislative bodies could "check" one another. Being that legislation cannot pass without both the upper (the Senate) and lower house’s (the House) approval, this system is allegedly working very well.

There really is much, much more to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This column would be especially long and boring were I to include all of the information available on both bodies. This column is to give the reader a brief overview of the process and participating elements of midterm elections.

I choose not to go into great detail about state legislators as they vary from state to state. Just know that when granted the power to add states to the Union in 1791, the Constitution has been used in that regard many times over. There are at least fifty examples of that. This was done to ensure preservation of the states and subsequently, the nation. It was hard enough to get the thirteen original states, which were basically thirteen different, autonomous components to agree to anything. Just be aware that because of this being written into the Constitution, that there is a close tie between the government of the states to that of the nation.

You may hear about gubernatorial elections or some such terms every now and again. This, again, is a fancy term for nothing more than having to do with a governor. Up for election this time are 36 seats, 22 Republican and 14 Democrat. It just so happens that the 2006 gubernatorial elections coincide with the 2006-midterm elections. As the party lines sit right now, there are 28 Republican governors and 22 Democrat governors. As mentioned before, there are 36 races going on. Being the governor of a state will (or should) easily imply that this is the most important executive official of the state. In most of the original thirteen, this position was appointed by the legislature. The people spoke and popular election carried the day and as such governors are now elected officials. The beauty of American politics is that each state's constitution will dictate how long a governor's term will last. Some say four years, others as little as two. Some states' constitutions even dictate that a governor may be immediately reelected while others say that there will be no consecutive terms served. Check your state's constitution for specifics, as they will vary. Like the President, a governor may be removed by impeachment (he is basically the President of the state). As of this writing, there have been a total of thirteen (some sources cite as little as seven) governors impeached while there have been only two US Presidents have ever been impeached. These two officials, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were both acquitted of the charges. A "recall" is another way of ridding the state of the head honcho. In a recall, there is a special election held after the signing of a petition (must have a certain number of signatures to be valid) by voters asking for the special election but after rival candidates have been nominated. If the challenger beats the incumbent, the incumbent is recalled and the challenger rises to the position of governor for the duration of the term. In this regard, think Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis. This term, Arnold is running for his first full term as governor. This "recall" is about as rare as impeaching the President. These days the governor in nearly all states has veto power (North Carolina, are you going to get onboard or what?) Every state will have varying constitutions and the point here is that the gubernatorial elections can be just as exciting and important as those of the presidential elections due to the fact that they are basically micro governments that function very closely to that of the "big government". With that in mind, think of the Civil War (or War Between the States as it is preferred by some) and states rights.

All in all, use your power as an individual to get out and vote even in the most miniscule of elections. Nearly all of them will operate on basically the same level and for me at least, understanding a city council election is a bit more of an easy process to grasp than that of the Senate or the House elections. I would suggest voting whenever you can. I would warn the reader, however, to not vote just to toe the party line. If you vote for a specific party just because someone tells you to or just because that's whom you've voted for in the past make this election different. No "Vote or Die!!" nonsense (I am still thinking this is the dumbest slogan since "Army of One"), get out and find out who is making decisions for you on the smaller scale and work your way up. Katrina is a good example of not only governments failing but of constituents failing as well. Many didn’t do their homework in that regard, and again, Georgia's 4th Congressional District is another fine example. Bottom line up front is that no matter how small you think your voice is, it isn't even heard unless you cast it into the ballot box. I see commercials on TV every day claiming that candidate x is better than candidate y not in regards to any issues, but because of comments he or she made in 1972 as a Nebraska school teacher or some such nonsense. I am sick and tired of mudslinging and name-calling! I want a candidate that will front their respective voting records with pride and prudence. I want to be confident that the box that I checked was the right one and ensure that the right person as far as my research is concerned gets the job. I don't care who likes puppies and who screwed around with whom at an office party in 1967. I want a candidate that will get the job done and make the constituency proud. This carries over from local politics right up to the electing of the President of the United States for me. The candidate chosen will have a hard enough time running the free world, but I want to make sure that they are not only up to it, but will maintain certain ideals that the Founding Fathers worked so hard to achieve. I could go on and on about what I want and don't want in a candidate either on a local or national level. The point being that research is paramount and that you should not vote blindly. Make yourself heard by voting every chance you get and not just because some "celebrity" told you to. Make your own decisions in voting, you are granted that much.


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