The U.S. mid terms: a view from New Zealand

Every four years, in between the other every four year cycle in American politics, the United States and the world around it  tune in to see how the mid term elections turn out. These are the elections in which the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate are determined. Always as fascinating as it is mysterious, thrilling yet frustrating to non Americans, myself included, it helps to serve as a rule of thumb on what the President of the United States might be able to achieve (or not) in the next two years.

One of the many mysteries to myself and others no doubt is why only some House and Senate seats get contested each mid terms. Every other nation whose domestic politics I follow send all of their elected representatives to the ballot box at the same time. At any given time there seems to be some sort of electioneering going on in the United States. This raises a few interesting points:

  1. Such as whether or not the constant electioneering grinds on people and puts them off politics
  2. Is this actually the most efficient and effective way of running a political system in the U.S.?

Another mystery is how deeply embedded some of the representatives and Senators become in the system. Whereas in New Zealand unless one is high on the party list and/or in a secure electorate seat that has not changed party colours in recent times, the frequency with which electorates do move along their incumbent Members of Parliament is quite high.

The reasoning that could be behind the apparent embedded nature of representatives in the system is the use of classes of senators. There are three classes – one of 34 senators and two of 33. The idea behind the classes came about in the original drafting of the U.S. Constitution Article 1 Section 3 Clause 2, which stipulates that Senators get six year terms and are re-elected in staggered array so that the entire Senate is not emptied at the end of six years. Yet the founders wanted a timetable of frequent elections to stop a build up or purposeful combining for “sinister purposes”.

Still in 2018, it seems to me like the build up of Senators who are not fit for office or who have motives not in keeping with the spirit of the U.S. Senate has been achieved anyway. When people like Nancy Pelosi (Democrat), Mitch McConnell (Republican) are basically doing this as a well paid retirement gig and to serve personal ends, given that was probably not the intended spirit of the Senate when it was founded, should they not get the memo and retire? Apparently not, given that there are no term limits.

Contrast that in New Zealand. After the 2002 election rout, National set about clearing its caucus of “dead wood”. Members of Parliament who were seen to have done their time and not be serving a major useful purpose were encouraged by the party President to resign from Parliament. And following the thrashings of Labour in 2011 and 2014 similar calls were made for them to move their “dead wood” along.

So whatever happens in the 24 hours between this publishing and the article for Thursday, one can be assured that some interesting observations will be made of the United States mid terms. Whether the day comes when Americans observe electoral processes in other countries just as a matter of interest to see whether anything can be learned or not is another story altogether.

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