Space Invaders

By Louis Avallone

Do you remember the game Space Invaders? Released in 1978, it revolutionized video games by allowing the players to “stay alive”, or to play the game longer on a single quarter or token – just as long as their high scores kept rising. In other words, the better you played the game, the more “bonus” time you were rewarded and you could continue playing the game, all on the same quarter.

Most modern arcade games, however, no longer even keep track of the scores. There’s often not even an option to save the high score by entering your initials, and thus not much incentive to earn “bonus” time by playing the game exceptionally well.

Unfortunately, and in this important election year, the same can be said for our modern day elected officials – there seems to be no incentive for them to perform exceptionally well to earn re-election. One reason may be that voters already, and overwhelmingly, re-elect incumbents, regardless of their “high scores”, or lack thereof.

That’s a pattern, all the way from the White House to Congress and to any mayor’s office, in any town, and everywhere in between. You see, we continue re-electing folks, or rewarding them with “bonus” time, even when their “high scores” simply are not rising.

And whether it was the criminal malfeasance of former Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans (who was re-elected to a second term), or the low public approval scores for the U.S. Congress (which are at historically low levels), we can’t help ourselves when it comes to incumbents, it seems.

Incumbent candidates, seeking re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, have won 80% of the time, over the past 40 years.

This means that an incumbent candidate is almost guaranteed re-election, even while the public approval rating of Congress is in the basement at 15%.

Consider also that three out of the last five mayors of Shreveport were re-elected to a second term in office, even while our population growth remained stagnant, our property taxes remained the highest in the state, our city’s public works infrastructure was crumbling, and now, just last week, we learned that the City of Shreveport’s Pension Plan Fund is $120 million short from being able to meet all of its obligations to city workers. Goodness. Gracious.

Now consider also incumbent Mary Landrieu, who is seeking her third term in the U.S. Senate this year. She votes 97% of the time with President Obama, even though Obama lost Louisiana in the 2012 election. She told Louisianans in 2009 that if they liked their health insurance plan they could keep their plan, and of course, that turned out to be untrue (92,739 Louisianans actually received health insurance cancellation notices).

And even still, with all of that dirty laundry, election polling indicates she, as the incumbent, is in a statistical dead heat with her leading challenger, Bill Cassidy.

So what gives? Why do we keep re-electing incumbents, if their results are so poor and our approval of the job they are doing is so low? Maybe it’s because it’s easier for us to heap anger and disappointment upon an institution, such as Congress, rather than the guy or gal running for re-election who is also a member of your church and whom you see at the grocery store or at Little League. Maybe it’s also because the incumbent has more name recognition, or has easier access to campaign finances, or government resources.

Whatever the reasons, we are electing more and more incumbents every year, and largely without justification. Since 1972, incumbents have enjoyed a 3-2 advantage over their opponents. Today, it’s grown to a 4-1 advantage.

It’s time to keep score. And during this important election year, we would all be wise to only elect incumbents, or award those candidates “bonus time” only so long as their results, or their high score, is rising.

And for most voters, that means re-electing candidates that are good listeners, intelligent, approachable, and are willing to work hard – candidates who are more interested in doing what’s best for their constituents, rather than in how they will get re-elected again.

To elect any other candidate this election year calls to mind the old adage, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” In some instances, it may be time for another candidate to take a turn at “play”. And for those other candidates, it should just be “game over”.

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