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Leaving Office Feet First: Death in Congress1.

  • Forrest Maltzman (a1), Lee Sigelman (a1) and Sarah Binder (a2)

Extract

Charlie Wilson (D-TX) described his decision to retire from the U.S. House of Representatives as the best of the three options open to him: “To get defeated, to get carried out feet first, or to … start another life” (Gerhart and Groer 1995). Although much research has been undertaken on electoral defeat (Collie 1981; Ferejohn 1977; Jacobson 1992; Mann 1978) and voluntary retirement (Gilmour and Rothstein 1996; Groseclose and Krehbiel 1994; Hall and Van Houweling 1995; Hibbing 1982; Kieweit and Zeng 1993; Schansberg 1994), research on death is still in its infancy. Indeed, rather than staring death in the face, political scientists have buried the issue. In one recent study, for example, mortality is treated as a form of retirement:

Members of the House leave for a number of reasons, most prominent among them being electoral defeat and retirement. Other avenues of departure include death and expulsion. … Simplifying somewhat, we categorize all departures as either the result of electoral defeat or the result of ‘retirement’ (Gilmour and Rothstein 1996, 56).

Of course, some deaths—suicides—are voluntary. However, although many members of Congress die in office, suicide is extremely rare. Accordingly, we caution against treating death as a form of retirement. Otherwise, members of Congress must be presumed to engage in such implausible calculations as the following: “Let's see now. How shall I spend the next few years? I suppose I'll run for re-election. But maybe I should retire so I can spend more time playing golf. Or, since I'm thinking of retiring, why don't I just shuffle off this mortal coil, cross over Jordan's bank to the Stygian shore, pay my debt to nature, and join the choir invisible?”

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References

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Leaving Office Feet First: Death in Congress1.

  • Forrest Maltzman (a1), Lee Sigelman (a1) and Sarah Binder (a2)

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