"All politics is LOCAL" this quote by former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill describes representation with only four words. However, it will be more than four words to fully describe the concept of representation that will be shared with the masses. The congressman's power ultimately comes from the backing of his constituents. But what is embedded in this representation? What drives congressmen to act in the manner of which he or she does? This article will illustrate what representation is ( including the different styles), why the public should know the types of representation, and how we as Americans should view certain acts from our congressman with a political eye...a political eye that most of the time, is dysfunctional at best.
To begin, let us look at the heart of a congressman's main backing...the constituents. There are many different views a congressmen can receive from his or her constituents. Let's look at some congressmen active in congress now and see who they were before they were elected and how this goes into a political career. I will select two members from the House of Representatives, and two members from the senate. First, we will look at Indiana 5th District Representative Dan Burton. In his early career, Mr. Burton graduated from Indiana University, afterwards he continued his studies at Cincinnati Christian University. To his constituents, Dan Burton is seen early in his career as being in the Army, being a stock broker, and opening his own brokerage firm. He later went into the political arena. Another Representative from the 20th District of California is Jim Costa. Mr. Costa's earlier career before being a congressman was being a special assistant to John Krebs and Richard Lehman. Mr. Costa went into his political career by serving in the California State Assembly and California State Senate. Bringing senators into the discussion, Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida got his Law Degree from the University of Miami School of Law. Prior to becoming a United States Senator, Mr. Rubio served in the Florida State House, while there, he was elected Speaker of the Florida State House. And lastly, Jim Webb, the Senator from the state of Virginia. Mr. Webb went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. After serving, Mr. Webb obtained his Law Degree, however he went onto bigger things by becoming the Assistant Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy. With these four congressmen, we can see that the positions they had held before make a great contribution to them becoming elected. Most were professional politicians prior to serving in The United States Congress. The embedded clip depicts Representative Pete Sessions and his ideas of the congressional elections for 2012. Here we can see just how congressmen are depicted and how they are sometimes thrown at the American public with to show the "better" congressman whether it be Republican or Democrat.
The positions and "lime-light" congressman have been in prior to the election, as stated above, allows for them to "show" their constituents that they are the best candidate for the position. This ties into the way congressmen present themselves to the public and their constituents. We see many examples of a congressman going out and speaking with the general public. Mainly this public consists of his constituents. A congressman must be seen. If not, they run the risk of not being re-elected if re-election is their goal. We will discuss this concept later in the article.
In order to fully understand how a congressman represents his or her district, we must look at two different styles in which the congressman can represent. These two are labeled Hill Style, or how the members present themselves in Washington, and Home style, how the members present themselves back in their districts. Starting out, Home Style representation needs to be known as a key element of the representation thought process. Home style representation occurs when a congressman goes out to his or her constituents and is seen as being actively involved in his or her districts political needs.
Home style enables the congressman to share what he or she has done for the community in the political realm of Washington, bragging rights more or less. The constituents see the congressman either as a person who is truly helping their community, i.e. through credit claiming, or is a stagnant shell that needs to be replaced. These views are critical for re-election time in that congressman's district. This form of representation refers to the congressman as being a member "from the district". If the congressman seeks re-election, they will highlight the good they have done for the district. "From the District" representation stems to the backbone of a congressman's re-election campaign. The embedded clip from C-SPAN depicts Representative Debbie Wesserman from the state of Florida as she speaks to her constituents in a town hall meeting. This clip explains just how congressmen go about a home style representation towards their constituents.
The other type of congress would be the members "in congress" representation. Here we see those congressmen who are either not looking for re-election, or are higher in seniority and their congressional background speaks for itself. Of course the congressman will still have interests in his or her constituents and their needs, however this style of congressman knows that he is doing a good job due to multiple re-elections and NATIONAL prestige. This prestige could be gained through many routes including positions in congress itself, i.e. chairman of a super-committee, or a great amount of public face-time on national television. These congressmen are acting in the type of representation known as hill style representation. The embedded clip from C-SPAN now shows how Representative Jason Chaffetz from Utah discusses a more national topic on the Iranian Sanctions as he discusses from key intelligence gatherers in a congressional conference. This clip depicts a congressman who is in a hill style manner of representation.
The two styles, home style and hill style, depend primarily on the congressman his or herself and how they see their jobs. Is it more important for that congressman to constantly speak in front of his or her constituents back home, or is it more important for the congressman to be seen nationally, or should they be somewhere between the two. These three stances are classified into National; National-District; and District member orientation.
Finally, we come to the constituents themselves. The background of a certain district reflects greatly on the type of representation it will receive. In simpler terms, you would not find a northern speaking well-to-do lawyer who drives a BMW representing a small district in southern Georgia whose main employer is the area's lumber manufacturer. This is an example of a person who would best be suited to represent a more urban area with people who mostly look, speak, and act in the same manner the congressman does. This descriptive type of representation is present in districts. From the constituent’s standpoint, there must be a connection with the congressman in order to hand over their vote to him or her.
What happens when a motivated congressman does want to run for election in a certain district, but does not look, speak, or act in the manner that is the same as the congressman's potential constituents? This lies in the substantive type of representation. A congressman can make it seem as if he or she is from the district by the way in which they represent the district. Representing in this way is done through political "suaveness" and the ability to make the constituents feel as if you are who they need to represent them.
In conclusion, congressman have to know their constituents and also know what is important in the national aspect of congress, be it the Senate or the House of Representatives. Through home style and hill style representation, congressman work for the nation, as well as their own districts. These congressman can view themselves as a "from the district congressman" or "from the congress congressman". They know the advantages of both and some lean towards the national level, some lean towards the district level, and some are the "tweeners" who are considered a "national-district" congressman. There are advantages to all three, ultimately been chosen by the congressman and his or her viewpoints.