How to improve Congress

(Denver Post, July 20) Welcome to the shrink’s office, Mr. and Ms. Voter. It says here you got fed up with the Republican Congress after years of overspending and scandals and laxity in foreign affairs, so at the last election you fired them. But surprise; the other guys have done no better. Gas prices are outrageous, the economy is anemic, troop levels in Iraq are up not down, and the defeat that Reid and Pelosi predicted over there is turning into victory. The Democratic Congress you hired so hopefully in 2006 has a 9% approval rating as the 2008 election approaches. How’s that working for you? In this funhouse of unintended consequences, Coloradans will try again to make the right choice for our seven members in the US House. Before you conclude a coin flip might do as well as an informed vote, consider there’s a good chance we’ll like the next Congress better than the last few, if we really shuffle the lineup.

I’ll illustrate with my own congressional district, the safely Republican 6th CD in Denver’s south suburbs, represented since 1998 by Tom Tancredo but now wide open as he retires. I’ll corroborate with the safely Democratic, Boulder-based 2nd CD which Mark Udall is vacating to seek a US Senate seat.

But the logic applies everywhere. The only way to improve Congress is to shake up its stale roster with fresh talent, young blood, a new kind of players unburdened with old habits. If you keep doing what you did, you’ll keep getting what you got. (Rockies and Nuggets management, call your office.)

The GOP primary race to succeed Tancredo in the 6th is a four-way scramble among Secretary of State Mike Coffman, State Sens. Ted Harvey and Steve Ward, and businessman Wil Armstrong. All have solid resumes, and their conservative credentials differ little. But if I was looking for an impact player, someone who could become on the Hill what John Lynch is for the Broncos, I’d give Armstrong the edge.

The mediocrity that is Congress-as-usual, no matter which party is in charge, doesn’t result mostly from scoundrels with ill intent. It results from decent men and women with a shallow outlook and mistaken goals. Too many in the House, R and D alike, are career politicians for whom advancement has become an end in itself. Voters need to change that personnel profile, or we’ll never change how the place works.

With ballots for the Aug. 12 primary already in the mail, Wil Armstrong’s three rivals all make the same me-too pitch: “I’ve legislated,” they say. “I’ve governed.” They have, and ably so. But his rejoinder, which trumps them in my book, is that “I’ve created jobs, met payrolls, and innovated in the marketplace.” Local Republicans said in a recent poll they’d rather send an entrepreneur to Congress than a career politico by 85% to 6%.

The clincher for me is hanging onto the Secretary of State’s office, which Iraq veteran Mike Coffman won narrowly over arch-liberal Ken Gordon just 20 months ago. Conservatives cringe at the thought of Gordon or former Denver Clerk Rosemary Rodriguez being named the state’s chief election officer. We hope Coffman stays put.

As for the successor to Udall in CD-2, I root for Internet tycoon Jared Polis to win that Dem primary over former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and environmentalist Will Shafroth. Same reasoning: the most accomplished individual with the least political baggage is likeliest to help bring change in a Congress that’s literally dying for it.

But whoever you like and wherever you live, don’t sit out this summer’s primary. Please get involved, donate, volunteer, study the candidates and the issues, make your vote count. It matters so much to Colorado, and to America.