I’m calling this week the first anniversary of the Public Check on Congress initiative. It was Tuesday, February 2, 2010 when Illinois held its primary election for the Congressional midterms. Groundhog Day, as it happened. The fire station where I vote is a short walk away. I vote just after it opens.
The man who had been my Congressman for the past 10 years now wanted to be my Senator. He’d been sound on local issues like keeping Lake Michigan clean and smiled at me when I shook his hand a few weeks back at the commuter train station, so why shouldn’t I vote for his promotion? I certainly couldn’t blame him for the last ten years of Congressional gridlock. My list of unaddressed priorities shows that Congress was dysfunctional long before he arrived and I certainly didn’t see anyone on that ballot who would do any better.
With his moving on, his seat in the House of Representatives was now open for only the second time in 30 years and so there was an attractive crop of candidates vying for it. They were all fresh faces with great ideas. Any one of them would do their very best to be a force for constructive change – from their new perch at the very bottom of the pecking order in an institution that reveres seniority above all else.
As I walked home from the polling station that morning, I was convinced that every candidate I had seen on the ballot for Congress was capable of excellent governance. I could have voted for anyone of them and felt good about it. And yet, despite having performed my civic duty in a most admirable way, I was equally convinced that I had done absolutely nothing to improve the performance of Congress.
Returning home, the sun started to peek above the horizon. I caught a glimpse of my shadow on the sidewalk in front of me. I couldn’t help but think that the only difference between me and the groundhog was that his “same old same old” would only last six weeks. And I muttered to myself, “We can do better than this.”