Against Long Odds: Citizens Who Challenge Congressional Incumbents

By James L. Merriner; Thomas P. Senter | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The American system of democracy is the most comprehensive and widespread the world has ever known. According to the Census Bureau's count of the federal government, those of the fifty states, and roughly 80,000 units of local government, the nation has more than 526,000 elective offices. One state, Illinois, even elects its members of Mosquito Abatement District boards. No other country has anything close to these immense and diverse ballots. It means, among other things, that at least 526,000 people must be willing to offer themselves for public office, inviting their fellow citizens to scrutinize their character and qualifications.

Rarely noted is that this astonishing breadth of elective office depends almost entirely on volunteers. There is, constitutionally, no inherited nobility. Nor, theoretically, is there an established political class. True enough, an array of family dynasties has provided generations of Adamses and Kennedys in Massachusetts, Byrds in Virginia, Longs in Louisiana, and Tafts in Ohio, among others. To be sure, big-city political machine bosses in decades past had the power to appoint, in effect, the holders of elective offices. But by and large, any citizen may offer himself or herself for public office, from the local school board and town council up to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and

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