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Breaking Incumbents' Hold on Congress

April 20, 2002

Re "Close House Races Go the Way of Rotary Phones, Newt Gingrich" (April 15), on the entrenched incumbency of House members: Ronald Brownstein overlooks one crucial factor, namely, the desire by many people to live in a district that has a representative whose views mirror their own.

Since moving here in 1981, I've been represented by Henry Waxman, Howard Berman, Tony Beilenson, Brad Sherman and now Berman again--all Democrats and all fairly liberal. And that's just fine with me. I wouldn't want to live in an area where my neighbors would send someone like Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to Congress term after term--just as I'm sure his constituents feel the same way about Waxman. So we voters must shoulder a goodly portion of the blame for this mess we're in.

Michael Schlesinger

Sherman Oaks

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Brownstein isn't telling us anything we didn't figure out years ago: Our votes don't count. But the "less benign factors" he enumerated ignore one writ large--third-party challenges.

Redistricting is not the only legal process available to incumbents determined to stay in office. Limiting third-party and independent-candidate challenges is the other, and challengers from a variety of ideological positions are routinely prevented from gaining ballot status. It's all legal and commonly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tinkering with campaign financing and the rhetoric about corporate influence, accountability and full disclosure miss the mark. Yet there is an effective way for guaranteeing representation that would be acceptable to the majority of U.S. voters. Moreover, it has stood the test of time in Western democracies where voter turnout far exceeds our own. It's called proportional representation, and it can take many forms, including a method that just passed muster with San Francisco voters--instant runoff voting.

Linda B. Martin

Del Mar

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