Like a high school senior who already has a job lined up for the fall and wonders why he should bother going to school for the last few weeks, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently can't bear the thought of showing up for work for the remainder of his term after having lost his primary election. So instead of just phoning it in for a few months (or not showing up at all—who'd notice or care?), he has decided to resign his seat as of August 18th. He's asking Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to hold a special election to coincide with the November 4th election, so his successor could take office immediately. "I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session," he said. Just not his voice, I guess because he wants to get a jump-start on that lobbying career.
I'm not even sure how that would work—would voters cast ballots for one set of candidates to serve from November to January, and another set to serve the full term starting in January? But Cantor's jackassery highlights a broader principle: special elections for the House are useless, and ought to be eliminated.
I'd be willing to compromise a little on this. What if we said that if a member of the House leaves office in the first year of his or her term, we'd hold a special election that November, when there's already an election happening. That means no extra expense to hold an election in which few people are going to show up anyway. If the office opens up in the second year, we'll just wait until the next election.
But won't those fine citizens be without representation? Sure. And how big a loss is that? What they're missing out on is having someone 435th in seniority who can be there for a few months to cast meaningless votes and nod off in meetings of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.
There are some constituent service functions that every member of Congress performs, like tracking down your great-aunt's Social Security check when it gets lost in the mail. But that's an easy problem to solve—when Congressman Derfnagel departs for his sojourn at the penitentiary, you could leave in place a few staffers whose job it would be to handle those complaints.
Obviously, the solution to the needs of the fine folk of the 7th district of Virginia is for Eric Cantor to just suck it up for a few more months. But if he can't bear to do that, I'm sure they'd be fine without him.
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