Congress members should be chosen like we assign jury duty

August 15, 1997

I was sitting in the company breakroom the other day when I saw Herald-Mail managing editor Linda Duffield stalk up Summit Avenue. From all appearances she was dissatisfied about something.

Linda is a tough, former AP reporter from the days when journalism wasn't so much an enterprise of pretty writing as it was an enterprise of full-bore attack. She was burning through a cigarette at about a half-inch-a-drag pace and it didn't seem a wise time for engaging in conversation.

Later though, I learned she was returning from jury duty at the county courthouse and that she had just participated in the highly inconvenient, yet somehow relatively satisfying enterprise of sending a bad guy up the river.


Jury duty. A pain yes, but not without its appealing aspects. I started thinking about other Herald-Mail employees who through the years have been called to jury duty. Kelly, Rick, Sonja - all people of character in whose decision-making capabilities I have complete trust.

That got me thinking about Congress, a body in whose decisions I, to be mild about it, do not have complete trust.

Who would I have more faith in making a decision that affects my life, Sonja or Roscoe Bartlett? Sonja might not have the doctarate degree, but she won't take federal handouts for not growing crops, she will know what it's like to raise a family on a budget, she won't throw dead goats on the banks of the Monocacy River, she will have an idea what it is like to have a child in daycare and, well you get the idea.

Who do you want making the laws that affect your daily lives, a hard-working mom, or some millionaire preoccupied with military sex and people who don't have "normal names?"

Perhaps you see where I'm going with this.

Yes, in the spirit of our Founding Fathers who envisioned a nation of small farmers and citizen legislatures, I propose a Congress of members selected the same way we pick our juries. You get a driver's license, or you register to vote and you're eligible for a congressional seat.

For the time being, don't remind me of the O.J. Simpson jury.

But look, everyone talks about limiting terms to two or three turns. However they won't do any good. We will just have the same peacocks running for a House seat for 12 years, a governorship for six and a Senate seat for another 12.

A professional politician could be long dead before he exhausted his electoral possibilities.

A Congress-by-jury would be different. Some hapless automobile mechanic gets a notice in the mail that says "Greetings: For the next six years you will be a member of the U.S. Senate."

What's not to like? You're going to tell me your dry cleaner, your barber, your waitress, your neighbor, your golf pro, your computer software programmer - no, scratch that - your golf pro, your school teacher or your secretary is going to make dumber decisions than Sonny Bono? I don't think so.

A lottery Congress would be a true Congress of the people, not of professional politicians whose main job experience has been to learn the best method of taking money from the big tobacco industries.

Sure, there would have to be some "voir dire" process by which we could eliminate undesirables. You would be asked, for example, if you believe that space aliens had invaded Ross Perot's brain and be instantly disqualified if you said "no."

But there would be no more special interest money, because there would be no more elections. There would be no more Johnny Huang, no more Bhuddist temples, no more protection for the sugar, tobacco and chemical interests.

On the downside, it would mean that even Ron Bowers and Steve Sager would be eligible for the U.S. Senate. I'm not sure any reform should go that far.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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