Column Date 2007-03-02

“Three Strikes and You’re Out” for Congress

Remember the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws?

They started in the ‘90s in California and Washington, designed to throw serious felons (like drug dealers) in prison for very long periods of time – sometimes for life.

It’s a simple concept: if you’re caught dealing drugs once, you’re in trouble. Twice, you’re in big trouble. Deal drugs a third time and the judge is obligated by law to throw you right into the slammer and you may never come out. No appeals. No bargaining. No loopholes.

People claim it works. Well, if it does, why not apply it to those wonderful folks in Washington – our elected representatives?

Take war, for instance. At the moment, our current administration has gotten us mired in two wars at the same time --  and they’re now hinting at starting a third.
Well, three strikes and they’re out: anyone in Congress who votes for fighting three wars at once should be out on their derrieres – fast. No press conferences, no PR spin, no appeal. O-U-T. (This should, at the very least, make them think long and hard about even mentioning an attack on Iran.)

Anyone who votes for three tax breaks in a row for the wealthy (with the economy going noplace and the “trickle-down” theory just a fading legend) would be out even faster.

Same for any Congress that can’t agree on how to get a national health plan going in America. If they fail to compromise on a health care bill after the third joint House/Senate conference – they’ll all be sent packing immediately.

Maybe a “three strikes” law will actually end the inertia in Congress, where every bill seems to sink in lobbyist-created quicksand and nothing ever gets accomplished.

Of course, the odds of passing a national referendum on a “three strikes” law are slim.

So I have a back-up plan. Actually, it’s an idea from Louie, my father-in-law.

Louie lived his whole life in Chicago. Its government was one of the classic examples of an utterly corrupt American political machine, of cronyism, of dead people voting, etc. (The old adage, “Vote early and often,” probably originated there.)

You could safely assume, Louie said, that after two terms in office, every politician has become power hungry and corrupt. It doesn’t matter which party they belong to, or how honest they were when they started out.

So Louie had a voting pattern guaranteed to drive the pollsters of any political party up the wall: whenever any public official had been in office for two terms, he voted for the other guy.

And it didn’t matter which party – he wanted to shake them up, to break cozy connections, to elect people who were, hopefully, a little less corrupt. He also wanted to remind the power elite that they were, after all, working for the little people who paid their salaries...the ordinary Louie.

Voting Louie’s way might just work in Washington.

With new faces popping up regularly, the lobbyists and special interests wouldn’t have any idea who could be bought or who couldn’t. And by the time they figured it out, there would be a fresh batch of new faces in Congress.

I like Louie’s plan.  I think it’s called government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” – remember?

©2007 Peter Tannen