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Representatives as delegates, trustees, and politicos

Congress members can act as delegates, trustees, or politicos. Delegates follow their constituents' wishes, while trustees use their judgement to decide what's best. Politicos blend both roles, acting as delegates or trustees depending on the situation.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're going to do in this video is talk about congressional roles. Now, what do I mean by congressional roles? Well, whether someone is a member of the house of representatives, or the senate, or even one of the state legislatures, there's different ways that they can act on behalf of the people that they are representing. One way is to just be a delegate. And that's to say, okay, what would my people that I'm trying to represent want me to do, and then to do exactly that. The other role is to be a trustee. And this is the idea of, well there's some issues where either the people in my district don't have an opinion or maybe if they superficially looked at it they would want to vote one way, but I, as a representative, as a trustee, I can dig a little bit deeper into the nuances and realize what's actually better for the people that I represent, or for a country as a whole. So, one way to think about it, a delegate would get a sense of the people that they represent, and what they would want, and just do that. While a trustee would say, okay what do I believe is best either for the people that I'm representing or for the country as a whole. And sometimes they obviously could coincide. And the third type of role is politico. Now, the everyday definition for politico is a politician. And sometimes it's used in the not-so-favorable sense. But in the context of, especially in a government class, a politico is a representative who does a little bit of both depending on the situation. If there's something that the people that they represent care a lot about, something that the constituents care a lot about, well there they would say, okay, you know what, I'm just gonna vote the way they want me to vote, even if I don't necessarily agree with it, because it matters to them a lot, so there I'm gonna be a delegate. But on the things that really matter to me or that don't matter so much to my constituents, well, there I'm going to be a trustee. So you could view a politico as a bit of a hybrid. So with that out of the way, let's look at some scenarios, and think about whether these are describing a representative as a delegate, a trustee, or a politico. So let's start with this first one. It says, there is a vote on a bill in the House of Representatives that would increase environmental regulations on major businesses. Several citizens in Illinois' 9th congressional district have contacted their representative to influence him to vote in favor of the bill. However, Representative Wallin thinks that these regulations will cost businesses too much money, which will lead businesses to firing his constituents, so he decides to vote against it. So pause this video, and so, is Representative Way-lin, or Wall-in, acting as a delegate, a trustee, or a politico? So the key clues here are, that Representative Way-lin, or Wall-in, decides to vote against the bill despite the fact that some of his constituents have contacted him to vote in favor of the bill. And so here is clearly acting based on his own beliefs, so he is acting as a trustee. He's doing what he thinks is best for his constituents, even though they might not agree with him. Let's look at another scenario. In the Senate, there is a vote on a bill that would eliminate the penny. Citizens in Indiana reach out to their Senator to encourage her to support the bill. Even though Senator Portela thinks the penny is incredibly useful, she decides to vote for the bill. So pause this video, think about how is Senator Portela acting? As a delegate, trustee, or politico? Well, it's pretty clear that she's doing exactly what her constituents want her to do. The constituents are encouraging her to support the bill and she votes the bill. And she's doing this despite what she thinks is the better option. Even though she likes the penny, she's going to vote to eliminate the penny because that's what her constituents want. So she is clearly acting as a delegate. And to be clear, and this is often the case, many times the representative will agree with their constituents and then in that situation they're acting as both a delegate and a trustee. Now let's look at one more scenario. There are two major bills up for a vote in the Indiana state senate. One bill will change the name of a high school in Indianapolis to Larry Bird High School. The other bill would set aside 100-acres for a new state park. Senator Kamath has received about 1200 calls from her constituents asking her to support the bill to rename the high school, but no calls about the park bill. Senator Kamath is incredibly passionate about parks, but has not decided her vote on the renaming of the high school. Senator Kamath decides to vote in favor of the park bill, using her better judgement to decide her vote, and in favor of changing the name of the high school to represent her constituents' interests. So you, once again, should pause this video, and figure out is Senator Kamath acting as a delegate, trustee, or politico? Well, you can see on the park bill, which she supports, so she votes in favor of the park bill. She does that because that's just what she thinks is better, she's using her better judgement. So in that scenario she's acting as a trustee. She's doing what she thinks is right. And then on the naming the high school Larry Bird High School, there she just says, hey, you know what, I don't have a strong opinion of it, I am just going to represent my constituents interests. And so there she's clearly acting as a delegate. And so the scenario where sometimes you act as a delegate, sometimes you act as a trustee, this is sometimes categorized, or often categorized, especially in a government class, as a politico, which as I mentioned before is really just a term often used for a politician. And you can imagine it's very natural for a politician to sometimes act as a delegate, hey I've got to make my constituents happy, let me do exactly what they want me to do. But every now and then my constituents either might not care about an issue, or they might not realize all of the details or all of the implecations, and so I might do something that's maybe not exactly what they want. And in those scenarios, well then I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna vote my conscience. And if I do a little bit of both, on different types of issues, well then I'm acting as a politico.