Sunday, July 17, 2011

Absentee Congressman

Oh, heck, it's only 1045.2.0 miles.

That's the distance between Lindstrom, Minnesota, where Rep. Chip Cravaack currently lives with his wife and two children, and North Branch, New Hampshire, where he and his wife are buying a house. Reports the (Twin Cities) Star Tribune of Minneapolis (or is it the Twin Cities?):

Cravaack and his family are leaving their Lindstrom home, and he is buying a new house in North Branch, spokesman Ben Golnik said Saturday.

Cravaack's move comes as he faces a tough reelection race in the Eighth District. Three DFLers -- former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, Duluth City Councilman Jeff Anderson and former Rep. Rick Nolan -- have announced that they will run against the freshman Republican.

The family move is likely to provide fodder for opponents in the 2012 campaign. Cravaack criticized Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010 for being out of touch with his district, and the Minnesota GOP Party called Clark -- who lost to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2010 in the Sixth District -- a "carpetbagger" because she moved from St. Cloud to Duluth in order to be in the Eighth District and to run against Cravaack.

Golnik said Cravaack will maintain his congressional schedule in Minnesota, spending Saturdays and his district work time in the state. Cravaack will travel to New Hampshire to see his family on his Sunday off-days, Golnik said.

"He's committed to keeping up the same pace," Golnik said.

Cravaack's family is moving because his wife, Traci, works as an executive at a medical company that involved frequent travel to Boston. She got a promotion, Golnik said, and will now be based in Boston.

Cravaack, 52, had been a retired Northwest Airlines pilot and stay-at-home dad before he came to Congress, but this year he and his wife both have often been out of Minnesota during the week. Cravaack said in an interview with the Star Tribune last month that juggling his and his wife's travel schedules with taking care of their two preteen sons has been one of the toughest things for him since coming to Washington.

The enlightened Dylan Matthews, substituting for Ezra Klein, is encouraged:

People more or less assume that the spouses of politicians — particularly of male politicians — will uproot their professional lives for the sake of their partners’. That Cravaack acknowledges that his wife’s career is also important and worth accomodating is a sign that expectations are changing for the better.

One wonders: would the enlightened so swoon if the spouse were, say, a construction worker or a policeman, rather than a business executive? Given that Mr. Cravaack procures the tidy sum of $174,000- plus the generous benefits afforded congressmen- it's highly likely that the the two Cravaacks are continuing in their respective careers for psychic advantages that go well beyond the need to feed and clothe their family.

Representative Cravaack's acknowledgement of the importance of his wife's career and move to the low-tax state adjacent to that in which she will earn her impressive salary would have been impressive if he had taken one honorable, additional step: resignation.

As it is, Chip Cravaack will be moving roughly 1000 miles from his congressional district, 1,000 miles from the people whom he was elected to serve. He will have the luxury of a family income that includes that of an executive of a medical company, while enjoying the prestige, health and other benefits of a member of the United States Congress.

In a nation of over 300,000,000 million individuals, few are given the honor and power of a member of United States Congress, who comprise less than .00005% of the American people. It is nearly a unique position, held by so few and coveted by so many, glad to be living in the district they represent.

If Chip Cravaack, who was elected as a resident of Minnesota, doesn't take his job seriously- and obviously he does not- he can be lauded for taking his wife's career seriously. But he does not do that either, refusing to sacrifice his position for her benefit. For serious people to call this "a sign that expectations are changing for the better" is unserious.

So, Mr. Cravaack, move to your heart's content, to the idyllic surroundings of the upper New England countryside, where taxes are low and your constituents aren't bothering you with their petty problems. But when you do, leave your position behind to someone who doesn't believe it a burden to live among the people who have chosen him or her as their voice in Washington.

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