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Updated on June 4, 2020

What does the term "Representation" mean?

In the American government system, we elect representatives at all levels of government. At the federal level, we elect two forms of representatives, and separate those two forms into two separate parts of Congress. In one of those parts of Congress, called "the House", representatives are given the name "Representatives" and they are elected to speak as representatives for the people of their district. In the other part of Congress, called "the Senate", representatives are given the name "Senators" and are elected to speak as representatives for their State legislature. Under this system, it is natural to ask what it means to represent.


If you look up the word ‘represent’ in the dictionary, or if you try an internet search using any internet search engine, you will find a definition like the following:

Screen Capture of a Google search for the definition of the word 'Represent'
Screen Capture of a Google search for the definition of the word 'Represent'

This article is about that first definition. Notice the words ‘be entitled or appointed to act or speak for (someone), especially in an official capacity.’ When we find ourselves in situations where we can not speak for ourselves, these words are the words we will think of when we ask someone to represent for us. Many of us already know about lawyers, and many of us may have had a lawyer represent for us in a Court of Law.

But let us consider these words with respect to our Congress in the remainder of this article.


During Constitution week 2013, the Senate provided a history of the 17th Amendment on their homepage.  This is a snapshot.
During Constitution week 2013, the Senate provided a history of the 17th Amendment on their homepage. This is a snapshot. | Source

Be Entitled

Much of the current concern we have with our representatives occurs because our representatives give all appearances of not being able to get past those first two words - be entitled. This concern is with both houses of congress. When we hear that our representatives exempt themselves from the same laws they create to govern us, we are left with the feeling that they have entitled themselves. When they exempt themselves, our representatives relay the sense that while the law is good for us, it is not good for them. If it is a good law, then why do they feel obliged to exempt themselves from it? This leaves us thinking they have only their own best interests in mind. We are left feeling that they have totally ignored the latter part of the defined role that is provided in that definition - to speak for others in an official capacity.

States & Health Care Representation

Who did your Senator represent on HealthCare?

See results

Health Care Facts

Passed by the 111th Congress, in their 2nd Session

  • 56 Yea Votes, 2 Independent and 54 Democrat
  • 43 Nay Votes, 40 Republican and 3 Democrat
  • 1 Abstain, Republican
  • 22 Senators broke with the position of their States

Subsequently 27 States (a majority of States) Sued in United States Supreme Court

June 28, 2012 - the Supreme Court upheld the Individual Mandate of the law, essential to funding the law.

To Speak For

These words define the relationship between the representative and the represented. They also identify a role where the representative will relay the desires and feelings of their constituents to others in Congress. Think about this, and then consider the actions of your representative in Congress. Does your representative take the time to explain the items that are being considered before Congress? Do they take the time to listen to you and your neighbor’s opinions on the topic? Or do they assume that since it is congressional business that you will not understand?

We are all adults here. If any two of us were to compare how we feel about various topics, we fully expect that we will not agree on everything. But we all know that with some mature discussion and civil exchanges of our respective points of view that we will be able to come to some sort of working compromise. Life will go on. We expect that same notion of discussion and exchange of ideas to extend to our representatives in Congress. We call it ‘civil discourse’. Does it happen? On good days, yes it does. But more normally, that exchange of ideas is presented to us a game, with rooters for each party jumping at the opportunity to cheer for their team. Too often, good common sense is put aside in favor of the act of arguing, rooting and cheering.

At the Senate level, we are taught that Senators will speak for their States legislatures. The notion of representing for a State is a little bit more difficult notion to grasp, since States usually do not take stances on issues based on what they want, or what their notion of an ideal is. Instead, as their own distinct governing entity, they are more likely to base their positions on the practicality of implementing any given law. That is, they act on the basis of whether a law is feasible to implement and enforce, and what sort of financial burden that law imposes on the people of their State. It is less about what they want, and more about what is practical. We are taught that Senators will represent on the behalf of their States, however, it has become more and more apparent that Senators represent to some other allegiance. Often they speak for their party before representing for their State.

The Affordable Health Care Act is the most notable example of that shift in allegiance. In that case, a majority of Senators voted to enact Health Care, while a majority of States they spoke for sued to overturn it.

Current Events

October 2013 - Government Shutdown or Health Care?

In October of 2013, the US government temporarily shut down. Collectively, the House and Senate failed to reach compromise on bills to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2014. The failure to come to compromise centered on whether to fund the Affordable Health Care Act (also known as Obama Care). The House had voted to not fund Health Care. This vote was reportedly based on feedback from their constituents that Obama Care was too costly, was causing the American companies to cut back on their employment of people, and was not ready for implementation. The Senate voted to fund Health Care.

It is interesting to note how our Senators and Congressmen phrase their comments on the situation. Representation for the various States legislatures is notably absent in those comments.

States Positions

What are the Individual State Governments positions on Health Care? Do they prefer that government shut down? Do they prefer to delay Health Care? If our federal government were working the way we were taught, we would be hearing news of the individual States legislature’s positions on Health Care. But we are not. We do not know if the States indicate they are ready to support Health Care. We do not have insight into the expected impact to each State. At his writing, it seems likely that we will never know.

Senators no longer represent for their States. Our individual states have become irrelevant and merely servants to the federal governance processes.


We need representatives who represent, not career-politicians who regard their congressional seat as a throne. This seems particularly true in the Senate, where representatives do not speak in terms that indicate they are speaking for their State. As this shutdown is resolved, will we begin to hear Senators present their States positions, or will they continue to speak to party rhetoric? Regardless of how we feel about it, the one thing that still remains true is that we are getting what we voted for. The government may be shut down, but life goes on.


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    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Thank you TirelessTraveller. I don't think the States have the capability anymore to take back their representation. Under the Constitution, the people choose their Senators, so the Senators really have nothing other than a residency requirement to ensure their allegiance to the State they represent.

      The senate's homepage during Constitution Week (September 2013) provided a background to why the 17th Amendment came into being. It is well done, but, as long as partisan politics continue, I will continue to use the Senate roll-call votes and their breakdown as examples of how Senators no longer represent for their States. HealthCare is not the fundamental problem, it is just the best example we have to date that Senators owe no allegiance to their States.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      7 years ago from California

      Like your approach, it will be interesting to see if states take back their representation and power..

    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Thank you Frog. I wish I could disgree with you, but I would not want to end up in a position where someone might ask me to defend the Senates actions.

      Why do the news outlets not point out the discrepancies between the positions of the States and the positions taken by their Senators? When they fail to do so, they leave the average american with the impression that it truly is all about the party.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 

      7 years ago from Arlington, TX

      I sure can't add anything but I do know we have almost nonexistent representation at this time. They are a pack of self-serving professional pick pockets and no more than that.

      The Frog

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 

      7 years ago

      And I fine job you do sir. I just wish this was required reading for our members of Congress if they want their next paycheck.

    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Thanks Mike. All I can do is keep trying to convey the message.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 

      7 years ago

      A very nice presentation as usual. It is a shame that those who could benefit most from reading this will never see it.


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