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Continuity in Representation Act of 2004

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Location: Washington, DC


Continuity in Representation Act of 2004 -- (House of Representatives - April 22, 2004)

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Baird).

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Throughout history States have often been the engines of political diversity and experimentation. The reason I chose the 75-day time frame was to allow more of those elements to be sustained. The 45-day time frame is far shorter than the special election time frames in a majority of States. The Commission on the Continuity of Government, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, estimate that the average length of vacancies over the last nine Congresses has been more than 120 days. A 75-day time frame thus provides a process significantly faster than the norm in many instances, while avoiding some of the more jarring effects of the bill's far more drastic limitation.

That was the rationale in crafting this legislation. That was the rationale where others have suggested 60, or even 90, days. I felt 75 days guaranteed the cherished rights that we all seek to protect under any proposal. The 75-day proposal, I will admit, is arbitrary, like the 21-day, or the 45-day period selected previously by the sponsors, but the entire bill is constructed around arbitrary numbers which we are only permitted to amend in a limited way.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. I yield to the gentleman from California.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, there is no doubt in my mind of the great effort and the intellect and the able people that they have put behind this. The CBO reports that more than 40 States are going to have a problem with this mandate, and will be forced to go well beyond their means. In hearing from my own State of Connecticut-from my Secretary of State-about all the underlying concerns that are raised, especially as it relates to voting rights acts, she said she would not feel comfortable unless there was a 60-day period.

Can it be accomplished in 45 days? Perhaps. But as I indicated earlier, as Judge Learned Hand said, this is a question that leaves us "not too sure that we are right," and with all due respect, I would rather err on the side of making sure that people were guaranteed those rights.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. I yield to the gentleman from California.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, I just wanted to close by saying that this has been an extraordinary afternoon, and I deeply appreciate the hard work and effort that has gone into this proposal on all sides. I simply disagree in principle with terms of the bill itself, notwithstanding my own position on the need for a constitutional amendment; but I do not think the bill before us gets the job done, and I think it imperils the very democratic processes that we all cherish so much, that allows a person to walk in here as a duly elected representative of his constituents.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, this amendment would restore democratic protections to candidates who wish to run in expedited special elections under H.R. 2844, and would enhance the voters' electoral choices, which the bill, I believe, needlessly seeks to limit. It would also give to the States, who are our first responders in elections, greater flexibility to respond to problems raised by a potential catastrophe or terrorist attack.

The amendment accomplishes several major improvements in the bill. First, it would eliminate the bill's perhaps most outrageous defect, the ban on primary elections in the great number of States which use them in special elections. The bill does this indirectly by requiring political parties in the States to select their nominees within 10 days of the Speaker's announcement of vacancies. The amendment strikes out that provision while adding entirely different language enhancing candidate eligibility, voters' electoral choices, and State flexibility in election administration.

The use of primaries was one of the great reforms in American politics which distinguishes us from many forms of parliamentary government. There is no way States could conduct primaries under the 10-day restriction. Indeed, this deadline provides barely enough time for prospective candidates to assess whether they even want to run.

In place of primaries, the bill would require political party committees of some sort to select a nominee, which is a legitimate mechanism already in use in some States for special elections; but even in those States, 10 days is a very short time. And of course many States do not allow selection of candidates by party committees because they consider it undemocratic, and require the selection of candidates by popular vote.

The gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner), in answering a question that I posed at the Committee on House Administration markup of this bill, when I was seeking clarity about some of the provisions his bill-what the bill would actually do-was crystal clear on one issue in this bill. He would penalize political parties in those States which could not meet the 10-day deadline by requiring that their party lines to be left blank on the ballot. He writes to the committee that H.R. 2844 clearly provides that political parties may, not must, nominate candidates within the 10-days allowed in any manner they see fit. If they do not, or cannot nominate a candidate within the time allowed, such parties will not appear on the ballot.

Selection of nominees, of course, is the ultimate political process, but it is more often known for controversy, deal-making, and intrigue, rather than speed and efficiency. That is why we have the expression "the smoke-filled room."

Imagine the nightmare if this bill became law, and the political parties in your district were unable to field any candidate because they could not convene under potentially adverse circumstances due to a national crisis, or if a party committee did not meet, but could not reach agreement on a nominee because there was strong competition among well-qualified candidates. How could there then be an election? Whom would the voters choose from the blank page?

I remind the Members that this bill's stated purpose is to expedite special elections, and to reconstitute the House of Representatives. Having elections without candidates would certainly accomplish the first goal, but would obviously fail miserably in the second. Not only could the bill leave the voters without any candidates to choose from, but it could have other irrational effects as well.

For example, even in a State like Minnesota, which in 1977 held both a special primary and a special election for a House seat in only 29 days, H.R. 2844 would require the abandonment of the primary system even though such a State might, under normal conditions, be able to comply with the overall 45-day deadline of the bill. The State managed to hold its primary in this case in 15 days, but could it do it in 10 days-the time limit for candidate selection in H.R. 2844? Why should the bill penalize those States, which could achieve their electoral results following regular order, by forcing them to change their basic political practices, and suddenly start choosing candidates through party committees?

Mr. Chairman, the 10-day provision of this bill, and its potentially disastrous side effects, constitutes reason enough for the adoption of my amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from Washington (Mr. Baird).

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Chairman, again I would add sincerely how much I have appreciated the debate and the depth of the debate that has taken place on the floor today.

I harken back to something I said during the debate on the rule, a notion that was brought up by the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern), that the only time, to my knowledge, that we have met in joint caucus has been when we were discussing the anthrax issue, and by the nature of this debate and the richness of this debate and the feelings on all sides, it rises above in so many respects the Committee on Rules, the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on the Judiciary and belongs in front of Members to discuss because of so many of these issues that are before us.

I quoted Judge Learned Hand before, and I will continue to quote him, because while you may be sure that all of these things can be accomplished in 45 days, I remain skeptical that that could happen, and my skepticism comes from wanting to provide the very constituents that would send someone through these doorways, duly elected, to have fully participated and therefore legitimized that election as well.

Mr. DREIER. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. I yield to the gentleman from California.

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Mr. DREIER. Mr. Chairman, I would say that there is no way that you are going to get me to argue with Learned Hand. I share that skepticism, and I believe that is a very healthy thing, and it is an important thing.

We have pondered almost every possibility. As I listened to the opening statement that was made during the debate on the rule from my friend from Washington describing what conceivably could happen if we were in the midst of a State of the Union Address, and we had every single Member of the House and Senate and everyone, save the one member of the Cabinet who does not come to these addresses, obliterated, what would happen. Frankly, if it was as described, a nuclear bomb were to go off in this area, who knows how far that would reach, and that individual could be killed. So we have pondered everything.

What we have done, I believe, is we have worked very hard talking to many, many different people about the most balanced way that we can approach an imponderable, difficult situation, and I think we have come up with something reasonable. That is why in light of the fact it is going to be very difficult, I am happy to say, for a constitutional amendment to pass this body, I think that we need to ask the question, what is the backup position? What is it that is proposed, short of a constitutional amendment, other than this legislative approach, which we have tried to take in a bipartisan way?

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, I would suggest that my amendments, I think, improve that.

Mr. DREIER. Mr. Chairman, if the gentleman would further yield, the amendment extending from 45 to 75 days in fact lengthens the amount of time when we could possibly get this body back together.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, this deals with the 10-day provision underneath, which again prohibits primaries.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

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