Morris: Our ‘Homeless’ Politicians
by Leo Morris
We apparently have a housing shortage in Indiana that is about to become a crisis. The representatives and senators we elect to serve our interests in Washington seem to be on the verge of homelessness.
Consider the sad case of Luke Messer, now serving as a representative and desperately seeking a senatorship. The man is 48 years old and earns $174,000 a year and yet is forced to live with his mother in a two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot shack in Greensburg.
Of course, there could be an upside. If he is living in his mother’s basement, that would make him the perfect representative for similarly situated millennials, who constantly whine that nobody understands how tough it is for them. Talk to Luke, kids, he feels your pain.
But we really can’t let the situation continue. Things are so bad, I understand, that when Messer’s entire family visits Indiana, his mother’s house is too small so they have to stay at his brother’s place. Is that any way for a dignified public servant to live?
My sister in Indianapolis has a spare bedroom, so I suppose he could stay there. But her house is not much bigger than Messer’s mother’s, and our brother lives in Texas, so accommodating the representative’s entire family could be a problem. Besides, I already stay with my sister two weekends a month, which I figure qualifies me to run for mayor of the Circle City. If two use the same place as a politically expedient address at the same time, somebody might get suspicious.
Former Sen. Richard Lugar has a “family farm” that he registered as his legal address after he sold his home in Indiana and moved permanently to Washington, calling into question his commitment to the Hoosier state. But the Messers might find the rural lifestyle challenging.
And former Sen. Evan Bayh had an Indiana residence that was listed on his driver’s license, which must be proof of something. But in an interview with reporters, he couldn’t remember the address, so he might have trouble pointing Messer in the right direction.
At this point, a reasonable person might be asking, “Why is this the concern of Hoosiers?” These are mature, reasonably competent people we’re talking about here. Surely they can handle a simple thing like residency.
But the burden is on us, Mr. Messer says. Because of “the fundamental decency of Hoosiers,” we understand that “being a dad comes first,” so he has to keep his family together and his three children close — in their 2,700-square-foot home in Virginia and their vacation home overlooking a lake at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
So there you have it. We must keep allowing Messer to have a pretend address in Indiana or we are home wreckers.
Truthfully, I’d wreck that home if I thought it would make a difference. Mr. Messer was a dad before he was a representative, but he should have known that balancing his family life and his obligation to constituents was part of the exalted position he actively sought.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how furiously our Washington envoys cling to the ghost of their Hoosier roots. They gravitate to the seat of power because they want to be a part of it — the deals, the favors granted and received, the prestige and privileges, the gossip at the parties, the deference from subordinates and common folk, the sheer exhilaration of being in charge, the glamor of it all. It’s not that they go to the nation’s capital and get seduced by it all; they are seduced by the very idea of going there. The instant they enter the election, they are lost to us. In other words, the fact that they want the office is the evidence that they shouldn’t have it.
If only we could turn back the clock. We could uninvent the jet plane and air conditioning, the two technological innovations that made a full-time job in Washington possible. Our senators and representatives would, as they did in the beginning, spend just six months in the nation’s capital, then six months at home, including the summer months that get insufferably hot in the halls of Congress. Our public servants might actually get to know the people they allegedly serve.
Maybe we can speed the clock up a little instead and make our public servants use the technology that is readily available. Require them to telecommute — have conferences, make deals and take votes from the computer screens in their mothers’ basements and on their family farms. Perhaps make them wear ankle monitors so they can’t wander more than 25 miles from their home districts. We wouldn’t get to know them, but at least we’d know where they were. Just imagine how much less government there would be if the lobbyists had to travel all over the country instead of being able to corral all the senators and representatives in one place.
And just to give them some incentive, we’d allow our public servants to have pretend addresses in Washington, which they could visit a few times a year, the same number of times they now visit their pretend addresses in their home districts. They could attend a party or two, buy a few postcards to send to their friends and have cab drivers hold open the doors for them and bow at the waist.
But we get to see an itemized list of expenses before we pay the bills.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is a veteran of 40 years in Indiana journalism. As opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Morris was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.