The Power of IncumbencyFor more about the work Democracy Rising Pennsylvania does to reform state government, visit the group's Web site, http://www.democracyrisingpa.com/
Yesterday's election demonstrated once again the effect of incumbency on the choices voters have in elections. All results are from the state's Bureau of Commissions, Elections & Legislation with 99% of the vote counted.
There are 203 seats up for election this year, 20 open seats and 183 seats where incumbents are seeking re-election.
Percent of open seats with primary contests in at least one party: 90% (18 of 20)
Percent of incumbents with primary opponents: 10.9% (20 of 183)
Percent of incumbents re-elected: 99.5% (182 of 183)
There are 25 seats up for election this year, three open seats and 22 seats where incumbents are seeking re-election.
Percent of open seats with contests in at least one party: 67% (2 of 3)
Percent of incumbents with primary opponents: 9% (2 of 22)
Percent of incumbents re-elected: 100% (2 of 2)
Apart from the famous defeat of Democratic U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, the only other incumbent to lose was Rep. Karen Beyer, R-Northampton, who was upset by Justin Simmons. Simmons, running on an integrity agenda, signed DR's petition for a referendum on a Constitution convention.
Incumbency suppresses competition and the debate of ideas that elections are supposed to be. That's by design. Incumbents decide how the system works, and they can't resist stacking the deck in their own favor.
They use the authority of their (really our) offices to raise intimidating amounts of campaign money. When the legislature is in session, the $500-per-person breakfast fundraiser is routine. And those are the cheap ones. It's the rare challenger from back home who can hope to compete. Under PA law, there is no limit to the size of campaign contributions and few restrictions on how that money can be used. Incumbents who term-limit themselves and have huge stashes of cash can perpetuate political monopolies by funding their successors' campaigns.
Gerrymandering, legal obstacles to third-party and independent candidates, a public platform provided by taxpayers, and legal obstacles to easy and secure voter participation all favor incumbents, deprive citizens of choices and weaken representative democracy.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Democracy Rising PA: The Power of Incumbency
Some interesting observations from Tim Potts of Democracy Rising Pennsylvania about the stranglehold incumbents have on Pennsylvania politics.