Need a job? Good pay, short hours, a gym at your disposal, free parking at Reagan and Dulles airports. Yes, be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. You must undergo a job review every two years, but that’s no problem: In the 2018 election, 91 percent of representatives seeking re-election won, in 2016, it was 97 percent. Your salary will be $174,000 per year which has been in effect since 2009. Become speaker of the House and you get $223,500. You are entitled to deduct Washington, D.C. living expenses up to $3,000 from your federal taxes. You have to enroll in Obamacare for your health coverage, but there is a myth that even one-term Congress members get a lifetime pension equaling their full salary. No, like most pensions, it’s complicated, but their pension is in line with other federal employees, excluding the military. And you get a lot of time off: currently Congress is on a six-week break.
A congressman (yes, there are now 99 women members: 79 women in the House and 20 in the Senate, but let’s keep it simple) must be 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and a resident of the district they represents. This last requirement is often overlooked since many members have been in Washington so long that D.C. is really their home. When they retire, they stay there. I always figured, when the Washington Redskins are your home team, it’s time to go back to Texas. Under longtime precedent, House members have been allowed to set the policies for their own workplaces (why John Boehner could smoke in his office after it was banned in the Capitol). Then there is former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay from Sugar Land. When a waitress asked him to put out his cigar because smoking in a restaurant in Washington is against Federal law, DeLay replied humbly: “I am the Federal Government.” We must suppose this was before he was indicted for money laundering.
As a member of Congress, you are allowed to earn outside income. However, there are limitations. As of 2012, outside income is capped at $26,955 a year. Since 1991, members are also forbidden to earn honoraria, or speaking fees. Congressmen receive allowances for personnel and office expenses, so they do not have to pay staffers and business costs out of their own pockets. It was rumored that Sen. Everett Dirksen rented a home office back in his small town of Pekin, Illinois – in a building he owned. Not to get off the subject, but when Dirksen was elected senate minority leader, he was issued a car, driver and a car phone. Overjoyed, on the way home that first night, he called Lyndon Johnson, the majority leader, who was in his car. “Lyndon, just want you to know that I’m calling you from my own car phone.” There was a pause, and LBJ replied: “Ev, can you wait a minute? My other phone is ringing.”
OK, what’s in it for you? Using the 2020 U.S. Census, Texas should get two more U.S. Representatives, even more if we count those who refuse to answer the doorbell. That would give us 38 members in the House and, counting our two senators, 40 votes in the Electoral College. Of course, Texas has a winner-take-all system, so the 3,867,816 Texans who voted for Hillary Clinton in the ’16 race didn’t count. In any event, after the 2020 Census two shallow demagogues are going to get the job, so why not you? But there is a problem: gerrymandering. The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature will draw up the new Congressional districts after the 2020 elections. Recently, a panel of district court judges ruled that Texas can redraw its legislative and congressional districts in two years without the feds’ approval. It will be the first time in four decades the state won’t need federal oversight while drawing the new district lines. This ruling comes despite past findings that Republicans intentionally diluted minorities’ voting power when making the last set of maps nearly a decade ago. The judges expressed “grave concerns about Texas’s past conduct” and lawmakers’ ability to draw new maps fairly. Huh? So they said, “We know you’re drawing up districts unfairly to cut out the voice of a vast number of Texans, but go ahead anyway.”
Your job is clear: When the districts are drawn, move to a new district. But be careful. Around a third of the state’s 254 counties have lost population since 2010. Ignore labels like “carpetbagger,” “newcomer” and “opportunist.” Turn your unfamiliarity and cluelessness to your advantage. Talk about “a fresh start” and “a new voice.” Remember when Bobby Kennedy rented a home on Long Island, installed his family there and ran for the U.S. Senate from New York, he began his campaign speeches laughingly with, “My fellow New Yorkians.” And he won. Get a dog. It is often said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Dogs help your image. And make sure you have a spouse and adorable kids for campaign photographs. Promise to “get tough on crime.” It’s a cliché, but never in the history of American politics has a candidate won by promising to get soft on crime. Keep it vague. Promise to cut taxes and add services, but never say exactly how you will do it. You will need a catchy slogan: “Win With Wynn” or “Onward With Oswald.” On the other hand, “Vote For Me” is a little too vague. Still, promoting racism, greed and divisiveness can win. Just look at the current resident at 2600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But if you don’t want to run for Congress, there is the domino effect. Every Texas legislator wants to go to Congress, and a lot of them will run. That leaves vacancies in Austin and subsequent openings in city councils, school boards and Home Owners Associations. Think small, but don’t forget that free parking space.
Ashby gerrymanders at email@example.com