This post originally appeared on PolicyMic on 28 December, 2011.
After a long hiatus to begin my run as a Democrat for U.S. Congress in the Illinois 12th District, I couldn’t resist sharing some thoughts here on PolicyMic. I’m no stranger to politics, having put up yard signs and knocked on doors for candidates since I was 15. But it is quite a different experience actually being a candidate in my home district. In the last two months, I have knocked on doors, gathered nearly 2,000 petition signatures, and called voters throughout Illinois 12, a district that takes 4 ½ hours to drive through end-to-end.
Americans are intensely tired of the same old politics. Congress’ approval rating is lower than the IRS, communism, and Nixon during Watergate. Less than a quarter of our members of Congress ever served in the military, despite being charged with vital national security decisions. Their average age is 60 years old. 47% of them are millionaires, and their net worth is up 15%. Contrast this with an economic downturn, unemployment double the norm (and even worse among returning veterans such as myself), declines in income and increasing poverty, and a U.S. median age of 36 and it’s easy to see why.
To create real change means more than changing the party in charge in Washington every couple of years. Real change will mean Americans focusing on issues and who candidates are. If voters pay attention to issues and those who want to represent them, political parties will have to put up candidates that represent the people’s interests and not simply their party’s interests.
Sadly, most of the electorate doesn’t do this. I often have to explain to folks the difference between State Representative and U.S. Representative. Many people don’t know what district they live in or when Election Day is. A surprising number are not registered to vote and the most common excuse is that they don’t want to get jury duty. Others say they’re so frustrated they just plain don’t care to vote anymore because it won’t make a difference.
Unfortunately, it is this frustration-turned-apathy that has led to an out-of-touch Congress, the province of old millionaires who can’t seem to get along even on issues they agree on such as the payroll tax break. All that is necessary for our current woes to continue is for voters to continue to do nothing. If we want to change the way our Congress and our government works, we have to change the kind of people we elect to represent us in Congress.
2012 presents another opportunity for Americans to choose. While the media focuses on the top of the ticket and the White House, the real fight should be about who we send to Capitol Hill. A good number of the old guard are retiring from Congress this year. It presents a chance to pass the torch to a new generation of leadership who will get America moving forward again.
Americans will have a clear choice to make this November. Hopefully they’ll make the right one.