How much clout, if any, do federal workers, retirees and their families have in elections — like 2012 — when voters will chose a president, a representative and in some cases a senator as well? When it comes to politics, is it fight or flight?
Do feds, as many politicians believe, hide behind the Hatch “no politics” Act, to avoid activities that are permitted?
That question is sort of a no-brainer in the Washington metro area (which includes the District of Columbia and large chunks of Maryland and Virginia). D.C. is one of the most Democratic safe places in the nation. More than 188,000 people (many of them from the suburbs) work for Uncle Sam in D.C., which also has more than 100,000 federal retirees.
Maryland has 296,000 feds and about 152,000 retirees. Many of the feds commute from Maryland or the District.
Virginia has 307,000 federal workers and 139,000 federal retirees. Again, many of the workers cross the Potomac from D.C. or Maryland.
Politicians in the Washington area, whether they are Republican or Democrats, know, appreciate and love the federal workforce. They listen to federal unions. During the health insurance open season, they sponsor health fairs. They speak at local meetings of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association and at retirement communities that are chock full of former feds and spouses.
But despite being the headquarters for most of the federal operation, only about 15 percent of the federal workforce is here. Most are well beyond the beltway in places like California (465,000 workers and 214,000 retired feds), Texas, (354,000 and 163,000 respectively), and New York (133,000 feds), Pennsylvania (106,000 federal civil servants), Illinois (92,400 G-men and women) and Washington state with 64,000 federal civilian workers. In some smaller states, like Oklahoma (64,000 federal workers), they represent a large portion of the state’s total workforce.
When it comes to local politics, such as the individual congressional districts represented in the House of Representatives, it is a tougher call. There are an average of about 710,000 people — many of them nonvoters or too young to vote — in each of the 435 congressional districts. In some parts of he country, like Florida and Texas, retirees are the dominant bloc.
But outside the Washington area the impact of active and retired feds is questionable.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is the No. 2 man in the House, which yesterday voted (largely on party lines) to freeze federal/congressional pay for another year. That is one part of a major drive by House Republicans to rein in government costs. Cantor’s 7th congressional district includes 10,500 federal workers in the Richmond suburbs and about 7,500 in the Shenandoah Valley. Plus a lot of retirees. Federal and postal unions have targeted him, but the question is can they get out the fed family vote and, if so, would it tip the balance?
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) chairs the House committee that generates most legislation good and bad, for feds and retirees. His 12th congressional district has 13,000 active duty feds and an equal number of former feds.
On the other hand Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) has staying power — he took office in 1977 — in large part because of the 22,700 active federal workers in his 6th congressional district. When feds are under attack (as they have been since 2011) he’s been one of the few beyond-the-beltway politicians to come to their defense. So too have Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Joe Leiberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
So, I put it to you. Do feds have political clout? Should they? And, if so, how do you get it? Let us know. We’ll pass it on to the the pols.
Meantime, to check the fed presence in your home state and congressional district, click here.