Election 2011 is over and on eastern Long Island, the activity has already begun in what will surely be the mostly hotly fought contest here in 2012: the race for the First District seat in Congress.
Democrat Tim Bishop of Southampton was first elected in 2002 to represent the five East End towns, all of Brookhaven and part of Smithtown in Congress. Competing aggressively to be the GOP candidate to oppose him are Randy Altschuler of St. James and George Demos of Ronkonkoma, who has roots on Shelter Island.
Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle and Suffolk Conservative Chairman Ed Walsh, along with several GOP town leaders and all the Conservative town leaders in the lst C.D., have already announced their backing of Mr. Altschuler to take on Mr. Bishop again.
Mr. Altschuler lost very narrowly to Mr. Bishop last year. It took weeks but, after errors were found in the reporting of votes, a recount and tallying of absentee ballots, the incumbent won by 593 votes out of 196,039 cast — the closest congressional race in the U.S. in 2010. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put Mr. Bishop on its endangered list for 2012.
Mr. Demos, who tried to be the GOP nominee in 2010, is pushing hard again to be the candidate. An attorney, he has been zeroing in on a sensitive area for Mr. Altschuler: outsourcing.
Mr. Altschuler’s greatest vulnerability last year was a business he founded, through which he made millions. It outsources jobs to India and other foreign countries. Mr. Bishop made it the major election issue. Mr. Demos recently blasted Mr. Altschuler “for lamenting the loss of American jobs after personally exporting thousands of those jobs to India … Randy Altschuler demonstrated once and for all why he has zero credibility as a candidate for U.S. Congress.”
Mr. Bishop, former Southampton College provost, has kept it up on outsourcing. In Congress this year, he sought, as his office describes it, “to prevent the federal government from contracting with companies that outsource American jobs.” His move was defeated by House Republicans.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bishop could have something else to worry about on Election Day — protest votes against any incumbent in Congress.
A New York Times/CBS poll in October found, as the Times put it in its headline: “Americans’ Approval of Congress Drops to Single Digits.” Only 9 percent of respondents approved “the way Congress is handling its job.” Some 84 percent disapproved. (Seven percent wasn’t sure.) It was the lowest approval rating for Congress ever recorded in the poll’s history.
Both Democratic and GOP incumbents are being blamed.
Helping lower Americans’ opinion recently was a “60 Minutes” story that revealed former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now Democratic minority leader, and current House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and other members of Congress took advantage of insider information to buy stock that benefited from congressional action or inaction. Being in Congress is a “venture opportunity … to enrich yourself, your friends, and your family,” said Peter Schweizer on “60 Minutes.” He’s the author of a new book, “Throw Them All Out.”
Making the rounds on the Internet in recent times has been this suggestion: “Members of Congress should be compelled to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we could identify their sponsors.” And the posting: “Now I understand! The English language has some wonderfully anthropomorphic collective nouns for various groups of animals. We are all familiar with a herd of cows, a flock of chickens, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese … Now consider a group of baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons? Believe it or not — a congress. I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington!”
This low opinion of the Congress isn’t new. Mark Twain a century ago wrote that “there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.” And Will Rogers said: “The country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”
With Congress having gone to its lowest point in citizen satisfaction, how will this play out nationally and in Suffolk in Election 2012?