Political Science 101

11.17.09 | Dr. Stephen Coleman | Comments[0]

Trustee and Delegate


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Political scientists have a number of terms that identify representational styles for lawmakers in Congress and elsewhere. A “trustee” votes his conscience even if it conflicts with the views of his constituents. In other words, the “trustee” does what he thinks is right and votes accordingly. On the other hand, a “delegate” votes the will of the people, even when it is contrary to his own beliefs. Then there is the “politico” who votes his conscience or the will of the people...depending on the issue.

Along with FLN’s Ed Thomas, I recently had the opportunity in Washington D.C. to sit down and talk with two freshmen members of the U.S. House of Representatives --Congressman Eric Massa who represents New York’s 29th District and Congressman Glenn Thompson who represents Pennsylvania’s 5th District. Massa is a Democrat and Thompson is a Republican. Both are finishing the first year of their two-year terms.

As first-term, first-year Congressmen, I asked each of them on how they approached the job of representing their constituents. Congressman Eric Massa is a trustee. He believes that he has an obligation to do what is right for his district even if he must vote against what is popular with his constituents. A case in point is his recent vote in the House against the Democratic healthcare reform bill.

In contrast to Congressman Massa, Congressman Glenn Thompson believes that he should vote in a way that is consistent with those who elected him to office. This makes Congressman Thompson a “delegate.” Interestingly enough, like Congressman Massa, Congressman Thompson also voted against the healthcare reform plan.

So ladies and gentlemen of New York and Pennsylvania, that’s your Political Science 101 lesson for today. I want to thank you for writing in and I always appreciate your comments. Comment below, or send me an email.


cc-wetm - tv- Dr. Coleman also airs commentaries and a public affairs program on WETM 18 Elmira. For more information on these programs, go to wetmtv.com.

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