The following is a letter that I sent to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today requesting a special election to provide a means for the citizens of Arizona’s 8th Congressional District to democratically choose someone to actively provide representation for us in the United States House of Representatives. I have no doubt that this request will not achieve its intended goal because I am realistic (or perhaps cynical?) enough to recognize that no career politician is likely to pursue such a course of action when political opponents would undoubtedly paint her as insensitive and cold.
But regardless of the difficult circumstances of the shooting in Tucson and Gabrielle Giffords’ subsequent path to recovery, the fact remains that people like me are daily deprived of our constitutional rights to government representation which is made so much more relevant considering the critical issues facing us today. It is too bad that the populace generally cannot view such important issues as government and its effect on our lives with objectivity; otherwise this issue would have probably been addressed long before now.
I am writing you today concerning the conspicuous absence of congressional representation in Arizona’s 8th District, an understood and fundamental right that each citizen possesses. I pray for Congresswoman Giffords’ continued recovery from the grievous wound(s) she received in January but I nonetheless am significantly troubled by her absence – from the perspective concerning the special government/governed relationship in America.
Given the litany of critical issues that the 112th Congress currently faces, including such far-reaching ones as the national debt ceiling, future fiscal policy, and potential immigration and entitlement reform, I am certainly not pleased that I am without direct representation at this time. While the congresswoman’s office continues to carry out its duties commensurate with the legal authority afforded a representative’s staff, they are nonetheless unable to speak for her (us) on such issues on the House floor, nor would it be appropriate for them to attempt to do so. They cannot sponsor bills or legislative amendments, nor can they cast votes in support or dissent of them.
As I have no doubt you are aware, Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states that “When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies [sic].” Additionally, the Arizona Constitution states in Article VII, Section 17 that “There shall be a primary and general election as prescribed by law, which shall provide for nomination and election of a candidate for United States senator and for representative in congress when a vacancy occurs through resignation or any other cause.”
I understand that Representative Giffords’ seat has not been physically vacated, per se, but her ability to carry out her constitutional duties has nonetheless been irrefutably compromised and has left us without the fundamental right of government representation. Her hopefully temporary disability has effectively vacated the seat, as there is a clear and pressing public interest in the 8th District that is not being satisfied. While this is certainly not her fault, this particular function of government is not about her but rather is about the people and should thus be framed in that context, I think, when considering its impact on Arizona’s 8th District. As you know, Arizona law states that you must issue a proclamation for a special election within ten days of the vacancy so it is my suggestion that the vacancy be considered having occurred following the conclusion of the current congressional recess, as this is clearly not the circumstance of a typical government vacancy.
Congresswoman Giffords fell victim to terrible and unforeseeable events, to be sure. However, her constituents suffer representatively from this tragedy as well. We must have access to someone who can directly speak for us on Capitol Hill, who has legitimate authority to cast a vote commensurate with the 8th District’s wishes, and who can appropriately represent the district’s interests according to our constitutional framework. I respectfully request that you direct the Secretary of State to initiate a special election to appropriately fill this vacancy as immediately as is practicable, in accordance with Arizona Revised Statutes 16-222 and 16-223.
***Update – 29 April 2011***
Today, I received an email response from Governor Brewer’s office:
…thank you for your email to Governor Brewer, I am responding on her behalf.
Governor Brewer is thrilled by the speedy recovery of Congresswoman Giffords, and continues to pray that she returns to full health. You are correct in that both the U.S. and State Constitutions, state that special elections are called by state governors once a congressional seat has been vacated. It’s important to keep in mind that only Congress may declare the vacancy of a congressional seat. Governor Brewer is hopeful that Congresswoman Giffords will be able to return to office soon so that she may continue representing the people of the 8th Congressional District.
Office of Governor Brewer
It seems that deference of responsibility is not just endemic to society but has proliferated to some of the highest levels of governance as well, even with regard to such fundamental issues as the God-given right to be represented in one’s own national affairs. But in this particular case, I recognize that the governor’s hands are tied statutorily.
I must candidly admit that I did not know that this was the case when I wrote to Gov. Brewer. Unfortunately, further research has proven this to be sufficiently unusual circumstances to virtually assure that the rights of American citizens in Arizona’s 8th District will continue to go ignored. According to the Congressional Research Service,
There is no specific protocol, procedure, or authority set out in the United States Constitution, federal law, or congressional rule for the Senate (or the House) to recognize “incapacity” of a sitting Member and thereby declare a “vacancy” in such office. Under the general practice and operations in the Senate (as well as in the House), personal “incapacity” of a sitting Member has not generated proceedings to declare the seat vacant, and SITTING Members of the senate (and the House) who have been incapacitated, and who have not resigned, have generally served out their terms of office [emphasis in original].
…it would be the particular House of Congress that would have to either declare or, at the least, recognize any such “vacancy” because of any “incapacity” before giving the oath of office and seating anyone presenting himself or herself as having been chosen to fill that seat.
But of course, this is the rub that lies at the very heart of this matter – who do I petition in the House, given that my sole representative therein is, in point of fact, incapacitated and unable to carry out her congressional duties? House Speaker Boehner, from Ohio? Perhaps the Minority Leader (and Giffords’ party leader), Nancy Pelosi, from California? These folks are not accountable to us so what is their respective incentive, outside of the ultra-rare existence of personal principles, to give this request any consideration? Perhaps I am judging too soon, but we shall see soon enough.
I suppose I could (and will) petition the Senate for a redress of this grievance, as they are the only representatives I have remaining in the Congress. But given that each house makes its own rules and executes them separately, it is fairly clear that even if Senators McCain and Kyl acknowledge the failure of the situation they cannot likely do anything about it. It is important, I think, to register my concern with them nonetheless, as they are responsible for lobbying on behalf of the interests of the people of Arizona.
It is simply unacceptable that I and my fellow constituents will likely go an entire congressional session without the prospect of rightful representation, especially at a time like this when our nation is involved in at least two wars and our fiscal policy is at its breaking point. More to follow as it develops…
***Update – 13 May 2011***
It has now been two weeks since I submitted a letter to Speaker Boehner’s office regarding this issue. I received the following email response from his office on 4 May:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. It’s good to hear from you.
Your ideas, comments, and questions help make possible my goal of leading a House of Representatives that listens and reflects the will of the American people. That’s why I’d like to ask you to keep speaking out by:
- Visiting Speaker.gov to sign up for email updates on issues that concern you;
- Offering your solutions and engaging other Americans on the challenges facing our country at AmericaSpeakingOut.com;
- Joining the conversation on Facebook.com/OfficeofSpeakerBoehner/; and
- Connecting with my office on Twitter.com/SpeakerBoehner/.
I made a Pledge to America to focus on removing government barriers to private-sector job creation and economic growth – that includes cutting spending to help end the uncertainty facing job creators; repealing the job-crushing health care law and replacing it with common sense reforms that lower costs; reining in excessive regulations; and promoting an American Energy Initiative that increases energy production to create jobs and lower energy prices. I also pledged to lead an effort to reform Congress and rebuild the bonds of trust between the American people and their representatives in Washington. I hope you’ll stay engaged and keep me updated on your thoughts as we work to keep this pledge.
Thank you again for contacting me and please stay in touch.
As expected, the form letter and the lack of follow up correspondence makes it quite apparent that no effort to vacate Arizona’s 8th District seat will be forthcoming from the House of Representatives anytime soon (if at all). What is more, Boehner’s office did not even demonstrate the professional courtesy and/or political courage to address my specific request at all – even if to deny it outright. I am left with the perception that my request, and by extension my fundamental right to elected participation in the conduct of the House of Representatives’ business, was essentially dismissed out of hand.
This proves exactly why our lack of representation in the lower house effectively alienates us from active involvement in the affairs of our government as it specifically relates to the district and its constituency, as is our God-given right to pursue. If the House fails to acknowledge this extreme violation of the constitution, then they are knowingly and willingly ignoring the supreme law of the land for, presumably, political cowardice.
As I see it, since the district will clearly not be invited to the table throughout the conduct of the 112th Congress, it is entirely inappropriate for the federal government to expect us to continue to pay income taxes for the duration of this session. As the reciprocal relationship between taxation and representation was and remains one of the founding principles of our republic, this seems to be a just and fair conclusion to maintain the balance between the government and the governed, from whose consent the former derives its power.
***Update– 22 January 2012***
Gabrielle Giffords announced today that she will resign her congressional seat, given to the fact that she cannot carry out her duties while working to medically recover from the wounds she suffered over a year ago at the alleged hands of Jared Loughner. She has finally acknowledged publicly what I have repeatedly said here and elsewhere: that while the events surrounding the attack upon her and other bystanders in Tucson last year were horribly tragic, they have nonetheless rendered her incapable of meeting the constitutional responsibilities the holder of the seat owes to the people of Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.
As a constituent, I wish her continued recovery in the coming year but look forward to having a voice in the House going forward, to having competent representation accountable to me in ongoing deficit and debt debates and the like. Given the short turnaround that a special election in Arizona will likely bring, my guess is that the Democrat candidate will be either her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly* (now that he has satisfied Hatch Act requirements), or one of her senior staff members and the Republican candidate will likely once again be Tucsonan Jesse Kelly.
*Much speculation has been made of Kelly’s intent to run for retiring Senator Jon Kyl’s seat. While there is no substantive evidence to confirm this presumption, I think it is just as likely that he would seek that particular seat as it is that he would seek her House seat.