Today's Washington Post has a feature article about Illinois Rep. Timothy V. Johnson, a 10-year veteran of Congress who has made a career of trying to call all of his constituents--a practice that he started as a member of the Illinois General Assembly.
In the bellowing jungle that is the U.S. Congress, Johnson is a quiet man with an incredible story. His goal is to call all 300,000 households in his district. Personally.
Johnson calls from the airport. He calls from the treadmill. Over 10 years, this habit has cost him a vast chunk of his life and left him with little legacy of landmark legislation. But, if nothing else, it has meant he really knows the people in his district.
Or, at least, he used to.
This year, the Illinois legislature has drawn a new district for Johnson, leaving out a vast number of the people he’s been calling. If he gets reelected and wants to keep up the practice, he’ll have to start again with hundreds of thousands of strangers....
This is a man haunted by democracy: The idea of representation, when practiced by Congress’s ultimate purist, looks a lot like a compulsive disorder....
Historians could think of no other lawmaker who had tried something like this....
“That’s carrying constituency relations to an almost pathological extreme,” Thomas Mann, a scholar of Congress at the Brookings Institution, said when told of Johnson’s approach. Mann said the founding fathers expected lawmakers to be more independent than that: “James Madison would not approve.”
Johnson says he’s proud of his work on the Hill, where he has sponsored 36 pieces of legislation — and seen only three minor measures passed. He chairs a House subcommittee and helped start the Center Aisle Caucus to press for civil debate.
The Thicket will grant that no member of Congress has ever tried to do this before, but we're willing to bet that there are some state legislators, especially ones with smaller districts, who make it a practice personally to contact every household in their districts. Let us know.
Photo credit: Melina Mara/THE WASHINGTON POST